Russian Organ Preludes and Fugues
Alexander GLAZUNOV (1865-1936)
Prelude and Fugue in D, Op.93 (c.1906) [9:18]
Prelude and Fugue in d minor, Op.98 (1914) [7:46]
Vyacheslav KARATYGIN (1875-1925)
Prelude and Fugue ‘A La Russe’ [10:04]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Prelude and Fugue in D, BWV532 (c.1710) [11:10]
Georgy CATOIRE (1861-1926)
Prelude and Fugue, Op.16 (1913) [12:02]
Alexander GOEDICKE (1877-1957)
Prelude and Fugue in c minor, Op.34/1 (1925) [10:13]
Prelude and Fugue in E flat, Op.34/2 (1925) [12:01]
Konstantin Volostnov (organ)
rec. Walcker Organ, 1884, Riga Dom (St Mary’s Cathedral), Riga, Latvia, 2013


Regular readers of our organ reviews may be experiencing what Woody Allen eloquently dubbed ‘déjà-vu all over again’. John France reviewed these same recordings on Priory PRCD1111 in June 2015 and because he wondered if his high regard for the CD had been coloured by having heard the organ of Riga Cathedral in the flesh, I listened to it via Qobuz and reported briefly in my review of another Priory Great European Organs volume (PRCD1117) that I shared his enthusiasm.

There is not a great deal more to be said that wasn’t included in John France’s review. Priory quote one reviewer as saying that Volostnov plays ‘with authority and panache’ and I understand that the word ‘panache’ has caused controversy in some quarters as seeming to belittle the performance. I suppose it all depends on what you understand the word to mean: if it implies that the playing is laid-back and superficial, then I cannot agree. If, however, it’s taken to mean that the technical difficulties of the music are emphatically overcome, I’m more than happy to agree.

Some of the music here is not otherwise easy to come by. There are not too many alternatives for the Glazunov works: only one other recording combines Opp.93 and 98. There is one other recording of the Karatygin and Goedickes’s Op.34/2, but this is the only current recording of the Catoire and of Goedicke’s Op.34/1. I can’t claim that any of them are neglected masterpieces but I was pleased to hear them all and equally pleased to have the opportunity to hear them in such persuasive performances.

If you are looking for the Bach as it might have been heard played in the Thomaskirche in 1710, you should look elsewhere. Normally I fight shy of organists letting rip on instruments and with registration which would hardly have been imaginable in Bach’s day, for the same reason that I like only very selective recordings of Bach on the modern piano from the likes of Angela Hewitt, greatly preferring the harpsichord in general.

On some of Jacques van Oortmerssen’s Bach recordings on Challenge Classics I have found him to be too inclined to use 32' tone, as at St Bavo on CC72153 – review – but on his own one at the Waalse Kerk I found his playing much more congenial – review. The same is true of his comparatively small-scale performance of BWV532 in a live recording, though that’s again on the St Bavo organ (CC72162, with BWV740, Dupré, Mendelssohn, Mozart and Oortmerssen’s own music).

Volostnov’s performance is much more large-scale, with plenty of ‘growly’ tone in evidence yet without riding roughshod over the music and I’m won over. Listen to some of the more delicate sections towards the end of the fugue and the music flows so naturally that you almost think it’s playing itself, yet I know that I couldn’t have got within a hundred miles of playing so well even in those far-off days before I stopped practising.

Purists may not approve but I have a strong feeling that Bach would have: in fact I’m sure he would have loved to have been in control of such a splendid organ. I think Albert Schweitzer would have approved, too, and hoped that his own recordings could have been preserved for us in such fine sound.

I also listened for comparison to Ton Koopman on the Teldec Complete USB Edition (2564661127: Recording of the Month – review). Though he performs Bach’s organ music on that set on historic organs – I’m not sure whether the Freiberg or the Hamburg organ was used for BWV532 – and admits to playing the organ like a harpsichordist, he isn’t afraid to use fairly heavy registration in this work. At speeds very close to Volostnov’s, he isn’t afraid to make the music sound exciting. I believe that Koopman, like Bach and Schweitzer, would approve of the Arts/Priory recording, and he’s one performer of whom I would never use the word ‘panache’ in the sense of sounding laid-back.

Priory licensed their recording from or recorded it in conjunction with Konstantin Volostnov’s own label and the Moscow-based Art Classics and I’ve listed the catalogue numbers above for the benefit of Eastern European and Russian readers. I was pleased to be offered a copy of the Russian release by Erika Stephens, who has made a very fine job of translating the notes into readable English – not always something that can be taken for granted: some ‘translations’ might as well have been written in gobbledegook. That’s not a new phenomenon, of course: my favourite translation cop-out was perpetrated long ago on a Supraphon LP sleeve where the Russian translator despaired of rendering ‘Down Ampney’ in Cyrillic script and wrote that Vaughan Williams had been born in London.

Gone are the days when we had to be very cautious with inferior sound and frying surfaces from Soviet bloc LP recordings. In every way the Russian release is as good as the Priory in conveying the sound of this very fine instrument and the acoustic of the cathedral.

I streamed the Priory release from Qobuz, where it comes without booklet, so I was pleased to receive the Arts CD. As well as Volostnov’s informative notes the Russian booklet contains a full organ specification. As might be expected, the stops are given German designations. The pipework is featured on the front in a closer view than from Priory and a photograph of the four-manual console features on the back cover. Never having been let loose on anything grander than a two-manual Compton, I can only imagine the exhilaration that playing such a mighty beast would entail.

With the minor reservation that though the Russian title may be more succinct than Priory’s rather wordy equivalent, it’s hardly accurate to describe all the music here as ‘Russian’, if it’s more convenient to purchase this from where you are, rather than the Priory, there is no reason not to go ahead. Whichever you choose it’s a very enjoyable experience.

Brian Wilson