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500 Years of Organ Music
Full list of works and of organ specifications can be found here
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 95310 [50 CDs: ca 55 hrs]

It was the eminent musicologist, Charles Burney, writing in The Cyclopaedia, or Universal Dictionary of Arts, Science and Literature, published in London in 1819, who stated that the organ was the “… largest, most comprehensive, and harmonious of musical instruments; on which account it is called ‘the organ’, organon, ‘the instrument’ by way of excellence.” It is therefore right and fitting that Brilliant Classics should release such a hefty box to illustrate the instrument's history and versatility. However on this point I have some problems. There are over seventy composers represented in this box set, but there are also many more composers who made a significant contribution to the world of organ music who have not been included here; perhaps a volume two will be forthcoming, I do hope so.

One of the main problems with this set is its layout. It is set out chronologically and divided into four subsections: Renaissance and Early Baroque cover the first 15 CD s and they come in green sleeves. Then Baroque and Classical CD s 16-34 in blue, Romantic CD s 35-45 in maroon, and the whole of the twentieth century in the final five discs in orange sleeves. It is a pity that the colour of the sleeves and the booklet notes of discs 14 and 15 do not tie in with the box index. It would have been much better to deal with each of the great organ schools and their development through history. For instance, one of the most important of all organ schools was based in Britain, yet apart from the inclusion of the John Reading Manuscripts of Dulwich College, a collection of late seventeenth and early eighteenth century pieces, which incidentally is not mentioned in the booklet notes, the only other English composer to be represented in the collection is Elgar. This is despite the fact that Andrew Stewart’s fairly good booklet notes inform us that English composers such as John Bull and William Byrd had been a great influence on Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck who has often been described as the ‘father of the great German organ school’. A lot happened in the development of English music in general and the organ in particular in the intervening years. Planning the set around national schools would also have helped the French school which according to this set doesn’t seem to begin until the nineteenth century. What about Couperin? As for the great German and Italian schools they seem to have ended with the Romantics. As is the case with all commercial companies Brilliant Classics have to maximise their profits. Apart from a couple of exceptions when they have included music under licence, all these discs have appeared before in their catalogue. In a lot of cases they are still available. This will account for this somewhat eclectic collection and Brilliant's over-reliance on Italian and German music. No doubt it also accounts for four discs which I feel should not have been included at all: concertos by Handel, František Xaver Brixi, the only Czech composer to be represented, Vivaldi and Haydn. These are orchestral works that use an organ, and therefore not really organ works. If they had dropped one of these discs they could have included the complete Choral Fantasias of Max Reger, even if I still feel that Wouter van den Broek’s performance is a bit on the quick side. It would have been nice to have them all included in this box rather than just the first few. That said, any lover of organ music will relish this set even if they will sit there thinking of all the important contributions made to the art by composers who do not get a look-in here.

The performances are on the whole thoughtful, well planned and mainly use an organ that suits the music. One exception is the disc of Messiaen’s music which employs a Dutch organ which sounds a little flat at times in comparison with some recordings that use a French organ. The production team and performers have worked especially hard to marry a period organ with Renaissance and Baroque music. There are few things worse than hearing music played on an instrument that just doesn’t suite the work. I once went to an all-Bach recital at Liverpool Anglican Cathedral, where they boast the largest Henry Willis organ, and at times the whole church vibrated. Brilliant's choice of works by J.S. Bach is a bit predictable. The obligatory D minor Toccata and Fugue is there with no mention of the modern scholarship which points to it being by a different hand. There are only a few of his less renowned works, one being Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland BWV659 and this is one occasion when I do not like the sound of the organ. It sounds quite nasal in comparison with the other recordings. A number were made on the newly installed Grand Organ of Leeds Cathedral, and I must say that it sounds impressive.

This, despite my misgivings, is a very worthy collection. It is sure to fill a number of holes in any collection; it certainly did in my case, especially in the case of earlier repertoire. I have made some real discoveries, with the Italian Romantic composer, Vincenzo Antonio Petrali, being a revelation. On the other hand, the presence of a disc of music by Hendrik Andriessen at the expense of some more worthy twentieth century composers is probably a Dutch thing. Whilst I like some of his music, I have always found his organ music uninspired and dull. This disc does nothing to change my mind. The set has certainly rekindled my interest in early organ music. Whilst I would have liked to hear more Romantic and twentieth century music, as I have said above, there is always room for a second volume.

The notes by Andrew Stewart are good but are limited by the confines of the box and the super budget price. There are further notes available from the Brilliant Classics website (URL above), and these give details of the organs and their specifications as well as a full work-list. The sound is very good. A few of the instruments sound a bit clunky at times but not enough to upset your listening pleasure. This is a must for any organ aficionado.

Stuart Sillitoe

Composer Contents
CD 1 [79:35]
Marco Antonio CAVAZZONI (c.1490-c.1560); Giovanni de MACQUE (c.1548-1614); Rocco RODIO (c.1535-c.1615); Ascanio MAYONE (c.1565-1627); Gregorio STROZZI (c.1615-c.1687); Luzzasco LUZZASCHI (c.1545-1607)
CD 2 [76:20]
Michelangelo ROSSI (c.1601-1656); Tarquinio MERULA (1595-1665)
CD 3 [61:34]
Antonio de CABEZÓN (1510-1566)
CD 4 [65:03]
Girolamo FRESCOBALDI (1583-1643)
CD 5 [56:44]
Giovanni Maria TRABACI (1575-1647)
CD 6 [69:00]
Giovanni GABRIELI (1557-1612); Andrea GABRIELI (c.1432-1585)
CD 7 [72:10]
Bernardo PASQUINI (1637-1710)
CD 8 [75:42]
Jan Pieterszoon SWEELINCK (1562-1621); Henderick SPEY (c.1575-1625); Anthoni van NOORDT (c.1619-1675); Cornelis SCHUYT (1557-1616); Gerhardus HAVINGHA (1696-1753)
CD 9 [67:07]
The John Reading Manuscripts of Dulwich College
John BLOW (c.1648-1708); John JAMES (d;1745); Maurice GREENE (1696-1755); John STANLEY (1712-1786); Mr; SEEDO (c.1700-1754); John READING (1685-1764); William CROFT (1678-1727); John BARRETT (1676-1719)
CD 10 [72:39]
Johann Jacob FROBERGER (1616-1667)
CD 11 [68:40]
Dieterich BUXTEHUDE (1637-1707)
CD 12 [77:07]
Nicholas BRUHNS (1665-1697); Heinrich SCHEIDEMANN (1595-1663); Samuel SCHEIDT (1587-1654); John Adam REINCKEN (1643-1722)
CD 13 [53:01]
Georg MUFFAT (1653-1704)
CD 14 [69:56]
Johann KUHNAU (1660-17220
CD 15 [52:51]
Johann Gottfried WALTHER (1684-1748)
CD 16 [73:17]
Andreas KNELLER (1649-1724); Christian GEIST (1650-1711); Georg Dietrich LEYDING (1664-1710); J.S. BACH (1685-1750)
CD 17 [59:51]
Georg BÖHM (1661-1733)
CD 18 [70:55]; CD 19 [79:18]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
CD 20 [77:42]
Daniel Magnus GRONAU (1700-1747)
CD 21 [77:15]
Johann Gottfried MÜTHEL (1728-1788)
CD 22 [70:01]
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
CD 23 [71:58]
Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681-1767)
CD 24 [51:30]
Gottfried August HOMILIUS (1714-1785)
CD 25 [65:55]
Carl Philipp Emanuel BACH (1714-1788)
CD 26 [69:40]
Ignazio CIRRI (1711-1787)
CD 27 [52:19]
František Xaver BRIXI (1732-1771)
CD 28 [71:20]
Padre Antonio SOLER (1727-17830
CD 29 [54:11]
Joseph de TORRES (1670-1738)
CD 30 [60:40]
Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
CD 31 [69:01]
Domenico ALBERTI (1710-1746)
CD 32 [64:21]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
CD 33 [66:14]
Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
CD 34 [67:25]
Padre Davide de BERGAMO (1791-1863)
CD 35 [65:17]
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
CD 36 [67:15]
August Gottfried RITTER (1811-1885)
CD 37 [69:16]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
CD 38 [77:28]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
CD 39 [57:20]
Vincenzo Antonio PETRALI (1830-1889)
CD 40 [57:24]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
CD 41 [79:21]
César FRANCK (1822-1890)
CD 42 [72:35]
Charles-Marie WIDOR (1844-1937)
CD 43 [72:24]
Félix Alexander GUILMANT (1837-1911)
CD 44 [62:29]
Max REGER (1873-1916)
CD 45 [74:05]
Edward ELGAR (1857-1934); Georgi Alexandrovich MUSHEL (1857-1934)
CD 46 [71:44]
Maurice DURUFLÉ (1902-1986)
CD 47 [72:00]
Jehan ALAIN (1911-1940)
CD 48 [74:03]
Hendrick ANDRIESSEN (1892-1981)
CD 49 [55:22]
Olivier MESSIAEN (1908-1992)
CD 50 [45:40]
Arvo PÄRT (b.1935)

Willem Tanke, Daniel Justin, Joseph Nolan, Giulio Piovani, Ivan Ronda Pieter Van Dijk, Christian Schmitt, Felix Marangoni, Stefano Molardi, Simone Stella, Matthias Havinga, Luca Scandali, Luigi Ferdinando Tagliavini, Roberto Loreggian, Enrico Viccardi, Matteo Messori, Fabio Antonio Falcone, Stefano Innocenti, Ricardo Castignetti, Claudio Astronio, Francesco Cera, Liuwe Tamminga, Hadrien Jourdan, Riccardo Bonci, Manuel Tomadin, Matteo Venturini, Massimo Gabba, Maurizio Croci, Bruno Forst, Anton Holzapfel, Hans Jurgen Kaiser, Wouter van den Broek, Jean-Baptiste Robin, Thomas Leech.


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