Nicolaus BRUHNS (1665-1697) Complete Organ Music
Prelude in e minor (great) [7:47]
Prelude in e minor (little) [4:34]
Prelude in G [7:56]
Prelude in g minor [3:59]
Adagio in D [2:28] Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland, chorale fantasia [9:40] Jan Pieterszoon SWEELINCK (1562-1621)
Fantasia chromatica (SwWV 258) [8:39] Heinrich SCHEIDEMANN (1595-1663)
Galliarda ex D (WV 107) [4:18] Samuel SCHEIDT (1587-1654) Cantio Belgica: Ach du feiner Reiter (SSWV 111) [8:52]
Bergamasca (SSWV 560) [4:26] Dieterich BUXTEHUDE (1637-1707)
Prelude in g minor (BuxWV 148) [7:05]
Adriano Falcioni (organ)
rec. 25-27 June 2013, Chiesa di San Giorgio, Ferrara, Italy. DDD BRILLIANT CLASSICS 94447 [70:10]
Nicolaus Bruhns is one of the best-known representatives
of the North German organ school. Being a contemporary of Dieterich
Buxtehude he belongs to the last generation of that illustrious school.
His father was organist in Schwabstedt when Nicolaus was born. He learnt
to play the organ as well as string instruments. In the latter department
his teacher was his uncle Peter in Lübeck; here he also became the favourite
pupil of Buxtehude. Bruhns developed into a virtuoso on the violin and
on the organ. The German composer and theorist Johann Mattheson reported
that Bruhns sometimes played both instruments at the same time: while
playing the violin he realized the basso continuo part on the pedal
of the organ. For some years he worked as a composer and violinist at
the court in Copenhagen. In 1689 he was appointed organist of the Stadtkirche
in Husum. It was stated that "never before (...) [had] the city
heard his like in composition and performance on all manner of instruments".
When the civic authorities in Kiel tried to make him move to their town
the authority raised his salary. He remained in Husum until his death.
Partly due to his short life he left only a small oeuvre. The main part
comprises twelve sacred cantatas which very likely date from his time
in Husum. They show the influence of the modern Italian cantata and
often include brilliant violin parts. These are but poor compensation
for the lack of violin music from his pen. His organ oeuvre is very
small; until recently we knew only four preludes and one chorale fantasia.
Only fairly recently a sixth piece was discovered, the Adagio in
D. It is part of the Husum Organ Book of 1758 which was first published
in 2001. Stylistically it is different from the other pieces by Bruhns,
but there seems to be no doubt about his authorship. It could have been
part of a larger composition.
The preludes show the features of the North German organ school. They
are written in the stylus phantasticus which has its origins
in the seconda prattica which emerged in the early decades
of the 17th century in Italy. They consist of various sections of contrasting
character, largely following the pattern of toccata - fugue - toccata
- fugue - toccata. The toccata sections have a strong improvisatory
character. It should be taken into account that all the organ works
from this period and this region find their origin in improvisation
which was the main task of any organist. It explains that relatively
few organ works have been preserved. What has come down to us is mostly
what was written down by pupils or what an organist himself decided
to put down for pedagogical purposes. Another notable aspect of Bruhns'
organ works is the virtuosic treatment of the pedal part. The main organs
in northern Germany had an independent pedal board with a rich variety
of pipes and a large compass. This way they were well suited to the
accompaniment of congregational singing.
The chorale fantasia Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland is another
typical specimen of the North German organ school. The various lines
of the chorale are treated in different ways, and the chorale melody
is heavily ornamented. Here Bruhns also makes use of the echo technique
which points to the influence of Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck, the Amsterdam
organist who was the teacher of many German organists and can be considered
one of the founding fathers of the North German organ school.
From this angle it is appropriate that one of the latter's best-known
pieces is included here, the Fantasia chromatica - or, as its
original title says, Fantasia Crommatica. However, according
to Sweelinck scholar Pieter Dirksen, this is not an organ piece. "[The]
Fantasia Crommatica, with Sweelinck's emphatic use of
the d#, which was missing on his mean-tone organ, (...) was therefore
conceived for harpsichord (...)". This already indicates that the
organ which Adriano Falcioni plays is not in mean-tone temperament.
The booklet mentions a temperament according to Claudio Brizi but doesn't
give any further details. This results in an interpretation of this
piece which is not totally convincing. In a mean-tone temperament the
pieces by Bruhns had also to be played in a different key. That is not
the case here.
Samuel Scheidt was one of Sweelinck's main pupils. The largest
part of his keyboard music has been preserved in three collections with
the title of Tabulatura Nova. Although one cannot exclude the
possibility that 'secular' organ music was played on the
organ it seems unlikely that they were performed on the large organs
in churches. The two pieces by Scheidt recorded here are variations
on a secular song and on a basso ostinato respectively. They
are conceived for the harpsichord in the first place. The same goes
for the dances from the pen of Heinrich Scheidemann, generally considered
the founder of the North German organ school. He composed quite a number
of dances, mostly with variations. The Galliarda ex D is one
The disc closes with one of the many preludes by Dieterich Buxtehude.
The Prelude in g minor (BuxWV 148) includes a fugue but as
at the time this was not clearly separated from the prelude - as is
the case in the works of later composers such as Bach - it is not mentioned
I have already referred to the organ Adriano Falcioni plays. It was
built by the Italian organ firm Pinchi but we are not told when it was
constructed. It is modelled after German instruments: the disposition
in the booklet mentions the model for every stop of the organ. For instance,
the Prinzipal 16' of the Hauptwerk is a copy of the same stop
from the organ of St Jacobi in Hamburg and the Schalmei 4' from
the Oberwerck is modelled after the Stellwagen organ of St Jacobi in
Lübeck. Most stops are copies of registers in the organ of St Peter
und Paul in Cappel. That makes this organ well suited for the repertoire
played here. However, the lack of a more appropriate tuning is a serious
blot on this production. That is not the only reason this recital doesn't
fully satisfy. Falcioni plays well and has certainly a good feeling
for the idiom of the North German organ school, but often I find his
playing a little stiff. In the fugue from Buxtehude's Prelude
in g minor, for instance, the repeated notes are played exactly
the same and staccato. There is no indication for a staccato, and a
differentiation between the notes of the theme would lend it some vitality
which is lacking here. The same goes for the preludes by Bruhns which
include many passages with brilliant figuration, and these should be
played in a more improvisatory manner.
In short, these performances are pretty good but most pieces in the
programme are available in better recordings.
A word about the booklet: although it is indicated that the liner-notes
are written by Falcioni, in fact they are taken from New Grove.
Using single phrases is one thing but lifting a nearly complete article
another. This explains why the Adagio in G by Bruhns is not
mentioned as it was not known when the article was written. The most
odd part of the liner-notes is that even those paragraphs from New
Grove are quoted which deal with his vocal works. I don't
know who is responsible for this - Falcioni or Brilliant Classics -
but I find this unacceptable.