Winds and Pipes Flor PEETERS (1903-1986)
Entrata Festiva, Op.93 [5:47] Thomas TRACHSEL (b.1972)
Concertino for Organ and Symphonic Band [15:44] Alexandre GUILMANT (1837-1911)
Marche-Fantaisie, Op.44 [8:03] Eugène GIGOUT (1844-1925)
Grand Choeur Dialogué [5:14] Giovanni GABRIELI (1557-1612)
Sacrae Symphoniae - Sonata pian’e forte [3:51]
Canzoni et sonate – Sonata XX a 22 [6:18]
Sacrae Symphoniae – Omnes gentes [3:50] Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Die Kunst der Fuge, BWV1080 – Contrapunctus 1,3,7,5,15 [13:52]
St. Matthew Passion, BWV244 – O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden [8:36]
Saxon Wind Philharmonic/Thomas Clamor
Daniel Beilschmidt (organ)
rec. Cathedral of St Mary Wurzen, Germany, 18-25 May 2015 GENUIN GEN16445 [72:56]
A few decades back, the name of the Belgian organist/composer Flor Peeters was on the lips of nearly every organist and organ aficionado. Not only was Peeters one of the great virtuoso organists of the day, but his extraordinary profligacy as a composer meant that most organists at any level of ability had some of his music in their repertory. With his death 30 years ago, his reputation faded from memory and his music is now rarely heard. So it is refreshing to find something of his appearing on a brand new CD.
Entrata Festiva was composed in 1959 and, as the title suggests, is a short festive overture. Scored for organ, brass and chorus, this performance omits the chorus – which Peeters described as “optional”, but without which the work rather sags in the middle. However it packs enough of a punch in its first bars to make a very impressive opening to the disc all the same.
At a shade under six minutes, the Peeters probably outlives its musical content. Almost three times the length, Thomas Trachsel’s Concertino could possibly extend itself at least as long again, so heavily concentrated is the powerful drama of his writing. A longer time-frame might also have offered Trachsel the opportunity to evolve some original ideas of his own, for the bulk of the material in all three of its movements is decidedly derivative.
The first movement (“Toccata”) spends most of its time with full organ and full wind ensemble squaring off in powerfully rhetoric, if largely empty gestures. The organ then paves the way for a more tranquil theme from the winds, which is so close to Finlandia that one is surprised that Sibelius’s very obvious contribution is neither acknowledged in the work’s title nor in the booklet notes. The remainder of the movement busies itself around the Finlandia theme before culminating in a return to the drama of the opening. The folk-like, vaguely Christmassy melody given out by a trumpet above a darkly trembling accompaniment, which forms the bulk of the second movement, is also very familiar – I just cannot recall where I have heard it before. The composer suggests that this “conjures up the image of medieval monks wandering through a cloister”. That’s as maybe, but in this performance there is such a strong feeling of forward impetus that the word “wandering” seems quite inappropriate. A Mahlerian fanfare opens the final movement, which combines the two second-hand themes from the previous movements in a noisy hotchpotch of well-used improvisatory gestures, allowing ample scope for Daniel Beilschmidt to demonstrate some tremendously articulate fingerwork.
The rest of the programme mostly travels over largely familiar organ and brass territory. We have the sturdy conversational wind/organ antiphons of Gigout’s Grand Choeur Dialogué, a splendidly warm-hearted arrangement of Guilmant’s stirring Marche-Fantaisie, as well as a crop of Gabrieli antiphonal pieces, arranged as conversations between brass and woodwind rather than the more usual brass vs. organ. Towards the end, however, we move away from this celebratory style of music into something altogether more restrained and contemplative. Five contrapuncti from The Art of the Fugue, arranged largely as alternating pieces for wind and organ, create a sense of serious contemplation, and this contemplative mood finds its ultimate with a profoundly serious statement of the Passion Chorale from the brass.
Apart from this transition from the loud and celebratory to the quiet and contemplative, the big difference between this and other recordings of wind instruments combined with organ pipes is the use of the larger wind orchestra, adding an extra layer of mellowness to the usual empirical brass sound and forging a surprisingly effective link between the pomposity of organ and brass in full flood, and organ in its more tender moods.
Thomas Clamor’s direction is characterised by a strong sense of forward movement and purposeful focus, and Beilschmidt’s often excitable fingerwork adds to the sense of brisk business-like activity, which informs so much of this playing. The Saxon Wind Philharmonic certainly makes a very fine sound, although there are some slightly unsavoury intonation issues here and there. These, though, are largely an inevitable consequence of the instrumental line-up, and accounts for the uncommon juxtaposition of full wind orchestra and organ. The recording has a strange sense of duality; often it has a close, intimate feel, but at other times - notably in the Gabrieli – the stage opens up to the extent that the winds seem almost to have been banished to a far corner of the cathedral, in which the recording was made.