The Organs of St Thomas, Leipzig
Dietrich BUXTEHUDE (1637-1707)
Praeludium, Fugue and Ciaconna in C, BuxWV137 [5:29]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Trio Sonata No. 6 in G, BWV530 [14:30]
Prelude & Fugue in E flat, BWV552 [16:05]
Johann Ludwig KREBS (1715-1780)
Fantasia à giusto Italiano in F [3:43]
Carl PIUTTI (1846-1902)
Fest-Hymnus in C, Op.20 [6:10]
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Sonata No.2 in C minor, Op.65 No.2 [10:13]
Léon BOËLLMANN (1862-1897)
Suite Gothique, Op.25 [14:47]
Ullrich Böhme (organ)
rec. 1992-2016, St Thomas Church, Leipzig
RONDEAU ROP6117 [70:57]
Think St Thomas Church Leipzig, and you think Bach. There are connections with Mozart, Wagner and Mendelssohn as well, but it is Bach who dominates any musical mention of the church. Surprisingly, when an organ was built there in 1889 by Wilhelm Sauer, it made no attempt to recognise the place’s musical lineage; which tells us something about the significance of Bach in the minds of late 19th century organists. However, as Bach’s organ music began to assume overwhelming importance in the eyes of organists, the church decided to build a second instrument which was more suited to Bach performances. This instrument, erected in 2000 is modelled on an instrument Bach played at the city’s St Paul’s church.
The current organist of St Thomas’s, and the man who designed the 2000 “Bach” Organ, Ullrich Böhme, gives us a taste of both, and opens this disc with a pretty spectacular account of the Buxtehude Praeludium, Fuga und Ciaconna in C played on the “Bach” organ. It has a fine, robust and nicely-proportioned sound, especially when recorded so sympathetically, allowing the church acoustic to add mellowness to the higher mutation ranks. I like very much the energy and vitality of Bohme’s playing here.
I am far less convinced by his account of Bach’s sixth Trio Sonata. Much of this is down to his registrations, with a growling pedal underpinning some angular mutations making a most grotesque sound for the first movement, and a heady crop of high piercing mutations in the third giving it all an overblown feel. These registrations certainly clarify the texture, but it does nothing to enhance the musical arguments in what is Bach’s most light-hearted Sonata. The “St Anne” Prelude and Fugue fares better, although it all seems unrelentingly heavy, and the ending of the Fugue is played at such a breathless pace and on such a heavy registration that it all becomes rather overwhelming – with the Cymbalstern just adding to the concluding cacophony.
The final work played on the “Bach” organ is by one of J.S’s own pupils, Johann Ludwig Krebs. The tiny, disjointed Fantasia à giusto Italiano is not one of Krebs’s most characteristic or accomplished works, but it would nevertheless have been nice to have some background information in the booklet about the music and, possibly, some outline of Böhme’s registrations. Instead we get plenty of romantic rhetoric on the church and organ strangely, to English eyes, feminising the famous quote here attributed to Mozart about the organ being the Queen of Instruments.
Moving on to the Sauer Organ, the reasons for including Carl Piutti’s hefty Fest-Hymnus is obvious. It is based on the B-A-C-H motiv, which it works through with almost as much chromatic zeal as did Karg-Elert with the same four notes. Yet this is a wonderfully celebratory piece, which is crowned by a triumphant statement of the chorale Nun Danket alle Gott. Plenty of lively pedal work and dextrous finger virtuosity reveal Böhme to have a noble technique. It is well served by the great and magniloquent tones of this large romantic instrument.
It would be wrong in a recording focused on St Thomas’s Leipzig to ignore Mendelssohn, and in a programme which seems unusually fixated on C tonality, we have the second of his six Sonatas, written for the English organ, but sounding totally at home on this German monster. As an interpretation, I very much like Böhme’s statuesque statements and rhythmic muscularity in the first movement, and the lack of sentimentality in the Adagio, where the melody flows with unusual freshness. The celebratory Allegro and solid Fugue are both delivered with considerable conviction and authority.
One thing the Sauer organ does not have is a strong French accent, and we have here a very Germanic sounding version of Boëllmann’s evergreen Gothic Suite. But clearly Böhme is having himself a ball here, even if in the process he departs rather a lot from the printed text. A Menuet thundering out with full organ is more in the nature of Bavarian clog dance (are there such things?) while the Prière à notre Dame is fulsome and expansive, if not rather self-indulgent – and not a céleste in sight so far as I can tell. The final Toccata is as scintillating as we would expect, and builds to a thrilling climax. In Böhme’s clear and deliberate fingerwork we hear all the detail with exceptional clarity.