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Oskar Gottlieb BLARR (b. 1934)
Vier Tänze (2007-2017) [26:23]
Drei Albumblätter (2012/2013) [14:03]
Fünf Intonationen (2014) [8:59]
Der Bach-Pokal – Introduktion, Passacaglia und Choral als Orgelprobe in honorem Zacharias Hildebrandt (2007) [17:19]
Martin Schmeding (organ)
rec. 2017, Neanderkirche Dusseldorf
Reviewed in SACD Binaural stereo.
CYBELE RECORDS SACD 061701 [66:45]

Oskar Gottlieb Barr studied with the likes of Bernd Alois Zimmermann and Krzysztof Penderecki in Germany, also working with Olivier Messiaen in the 1960s and beyond. His longstanding promotion of German-Polish cultural exchange was rewarded in 2016 with an honorary doctorate from the University of Warmia.

Including pieces written and adapted for Martin Schmeding, the booklet for this release reads a little like a reportage on life amongst numerous organists in the last decade. The organ at the Neanderkirche was inaugurated in 1965 and soon became an attraction to organists and audiences in its radical departure from neo-baroque tradition. This unique instrument carries a wealth of unusual sounds and contrasts of colour and intonation, all exploited to the full by the composer, who was cantor and organist at the Neanderkirche when the instrument was being conceived and built. There is a short essay on the organ by Martin Schmeding in the booklet, which also shows its full disposition.

Also somewhat unexpectedly to my innocent ears, Barr’s music turns out to be full of wit and intrigue. The Vier Tänze are an ideal warm-up, opening with a Holy Tango, continuing with a remarkable Mephisto-Walzer mit Ave maria and including the delightful Something like a blues which wrong-foots us in using a sixteen rather than the more usual twelve-bar structure. This is a new version made for this recording, and the final Estampie II, als Pedalsolo composed for Martin Schmeding is full of biblical references and is the most serious work of the set.

Drei Albumblätter begins with a piece dedicated to the former federal Chancellor of Germany Helmut Schmidt, who apparently had ambitions as an organist. This is an atmospheric and questioning miniature on the ‘God question’ posed by the horrors of Auschwitz. Quasi una Tarantella is a relatively light sketch for positive organ alone, and the dance-infused third is great fun, being titled Quasi una Sardana and dedicated to a fellow organist from Catalonia Gregori Estrada.

The Fünf Intonationen originated as part of a piece called Concerto SpiritualeDer siebte Engel. Kaddish für Luigi Nono. As self-contained miniatures these organ pieces work very well in their own right, each exploring a different aspect of the organ and further expanding our experience of the Rieger Organ in the Neanderkirche. These are more serious outings with a darker, sometimes nocturnal feel, but one has the feeling the composer’s good humour is never too far beneath the surface.
Der Bach-Pokal or ‘The Bach Goblet’ was composed to celebrate the restoration of the Hildebrandt organ in the Stadkirche St. Wnzel in Naumburg, an instrument approved by Bach himself. The title refers to an artefact at the Bach House in Eisenach, the fundamental building blocks of the music taken from the well-known note sequence B-A-C-H as well as its inversion and complementary sequence. “The whole piece is composed as an imaginary organ rehearsal, by which I mean that the organ shows off its possibilities – different pleno mixtures, solo voices (principal, flutes, cornet, reeds) and the capacity of its bellows.” This thorough and intriguing workout concludes with a soft intonation of the old Czech St. Wenceslas Chorale in emulation of Bach’s use of the melody in the chorale Vor deinen Thron tret’ich hiermit.

Beyond my expectations, this recording has proven highly enjoyable and deeply interesting. The characters of both instrument and composer have been ably captured by both performer and sound engineer, and this is exactly the kind of release you want around if you seek to widen your horizons when it comes to the extended possibilities of well-crafted contemporary organ music.

Dominy Clements



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