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Georg BÖHM (1661-1733)
The Complete Organ Works
Details after review
Hans Davidsson (organ after designs by Scherer and Schnitger)
Quarter comma meantone temperament (A=465)
rec. 2013, Örgryte Nye Kyrka, Sweden
Organ specification and individual registration included in booklet.
LOFT LRCD-1133-35 [3 CDs: 179:42]

Georg Böhm was one of the most important predecessors of Johann Sebastian Bach, who was very probably his student at Lüneburg from 1700 to 1702. There have been earlier releases of his music for harpsichord and organ, but this is the most complete recording of the latter.

When I recommended a single-CD selection in my Download Roundup in February 2012, it was one of only two then available devoted solely to Böhm’s music. That remains a fine introduction to the music, from Bernard Fouccroulle on the Van Hagerbeer (1646)/Schnitger (1725) organ at Alkmaar (Ricercar RIC319). It’s available on CD and can be streamed by subscribers to Naxos Music Library, but you should ignore the link to classicsonline.com, sadly no longer available.

I enjoyed the Ricercar selection, as also Fouccroulle’s recording of the organ music of an earlier North German master, Matthias Weckmann (Ricercar RIC348 – DL News 2014/3 – also included in a 5-CD set of Weckmann’s music, RIC369 – Recording of the Month).

Another single-CD selection, from Christiaan Teeuwsen, appears on a Naxos CD labelled Volume 1, though no successor ever seems to have appeared. (8.555857). There are more complete recordings from Friedhelm Flamme (CPO777501-2, 2 CDs, recorded in 2009) and Simone Stella (OnClassical OC133SET2, 2 CDs, download only). The most economical way to obtain the Stella recording is as a 4-CD set, target price £10.50, of all Böhm’s keyboard music on Brilliant Classics (94612). Those content with mp3 should find that set for around £8.

Both Flamme and Stella give us just over two hours of Böhm’s organ music, but neither is quite as complete as the new Loft set; this includes several variants of certain works, bringing almost an hour more of the music. Thus, for example, we are given three versions of Vater unser im Himmelreich on CD1 – one for two manuals, one for single manual with pedals and a third with the cantus firmus, the tune of the underlying Lutheran chorale, played on the pedals.

Some short works preserved in manuscript form but not available in editions are also recorded for the first time: they include a manualiter (manuals only) version of the second half of the organ chorale on Allein Gott in der Höh’ sei Ehr – the German Gloria – and a short Nachspiel (postlude) for the organ chorale Christum wir sollen loben schon.

The other reason for the extended playing time is that Hans Davidsson generally adopts a slower tempo than other performers. I noted this on an earlier Loft recording of the organ music of Buxtehude on two 2-CD and one 3-CD sets – review. Now, as then, I thought that it made for a more reflective and less exciting approach to the music. I never found his approach to Buxthude objectionably heavy, however, and it’s more appropriate to Böhm, whose music is less dramatic: don’t expect fireworks, though there’s plenty of power in this music. If it’s Böhm in more unbuttoned form that you are seeking, there’s an attractive and stylish 1982 Hyperion collection of German Consort Music, 1660-1710, performed by the Parley of Instruments, directed by Peter Holman and including Böhm’s Ouverture a5 in C (CDA66074, with sonatas and ouvertures by Rosenmüller, Schmelzer, Fischer and Telemann: archive service or inexpensive download with pdf booklet from hyperion-records.co.uk).

One of Böhm’s longest organ works, Freu dich sehr, o meine Seele, comes in at 15:51 on CPO and 17:46 on the new Loft recording and that’s slightly less than the average difference between the two recordings. The Partita Wer nur den lieben Gott läßt walten is more typical, taking 6:52 on CPO and 8:56 on Loft. The latter trips along under the hands of Flamme and though his organ is a slightly less appropriate instrument – the restored organ of St Servatius Duderstadt – than Davidsson’s, the registration is well chosen.

Simone Stella sounds markedly slower than Flamme, taking 8:10 overall. Students may like the way in which his recording is divided into seven sections, and overall he finds a degree more variety and contrast between the sections. Though he uses an Italian organ, his chosen registration (not specified) makes it sound not inappropriate.

Davidsson’s performance is much more contemplative than either Flamme or Stella to the extent that it seems almost a different piece. All three performances work well in their own context, but I suggest that prospective purchasers try them out from Naxos Music Library first.

If I must choose one Desert Island recording of this work, I suppose that it would have to be Fouccroulle on the single-CD Ricercar selection, who takes 7:32 and seems to capture both the reflection of Davidsson and Flamme’s more lively approach.

In Auf meinen lieben Gott, Fouccroulle (10:40) takes considerably longer than Flamme (8:39) and almost as long as Davidsson (11:11). Yet I can’t say that Flamme seems rushed in this work – if anything, Fouccroulle’s account of Versus I sounds lighter than his. Davidsson, unsurprisingly, sounds more reflective, but ethereal rather than heavy, and all three have something valuable to say about the music.

The completeness of the programme makes the new release de rigueur for organ scholars, but the quality of the performances will appeal to non-specialist lovers of the organ music of the period, too, who need not trouble about such matters as quarter-comma meantone temperament. Even non-specialists, however, will appreciate that the performances are on a modern four-manual organ of similar design to the Schnitger instrument which Böhm – and the teenage Bach – would have played at Lüneburg.

I liked the sound of this instrument much more than that of the historic single-manual Morlanda organ on which Davidsson performed Böhm’s Partita Ach wie nichtig, ach wir flüchtig on an earlier recital on Intim (IMCD073, with Sweelinck, Weckmann, Kerll and Froberger).

Another big plus for scholars: as organ specialists, Loft provide all that could be wanted in the way of detail – not only the specification of the instrument but the registration employed for each piece. I always hope for that, but usually in vain. That’s in addition to detailed notes about Böhm’s life and music, individual works, and the organ employed for the recording.

I can’t comment on the CPO booklet: eclassical.com don’t offer it with the download and Naxos Music Library have only a truncated version of it. It’s also disappointing that although the CPO is available on hybrid SACD, there is no 24-bit download from eclassical.com or any supplier that I can find. Nevertheless, it sounds well in ordinary 16-bit, as does the new Loft recording.

I’ve already indicated that all three approaches to Böhm’s organ music work well in their own right. Simone Stella’s 4-CD Brilliant Classics set offers a huge bargain and buyers should be well satisfied with it. Friedrich Flamme’s recording also represent a saving, on two CDs, but scholars of the baroque organ repertoire will want the 3-CD Loft set.

General music lovers may well be content with the single-CD selections on Naxos and Ricercar. If you are looking for 70 minutes of Böhm’s organ music, Fouccroulle on RIC319 is probably the better recommendation. Not the least of the many virtues of this recording is that, like the new Loft release, it contains both the specification of the 3-manual organ of St Laurentskerk at Alkmaar and the registration employed for each piece.

Not all UK suppliers stock Loft CDs but Amazon UK list them as imports – indeed, they offer them for less than their own mp3 download. Presto offer the download in mp3 and lossless sound, with pdf booklet, and subscribers to Naxos Music Library can stream the music there, again with the booklet.

If Davidsson’s manner with Böhm appeals, there’s another 3-CD set from him of the complete organ music of Matthias Weckmann. I’ve already mentioned the Fouccroulle recording of Weckmann; both are complete, but here again Davidsson offers a slightly more complete set of works and his tempi are once more slightly slower: O lux beata Trinitas, for example, 22:35 from Fouccroulle, comes in at 26:52 from Davidsson. (Loft LRCD-1065-67).

It’s very satisfying that we now have so many recordings of Böhm’s organ music, complete or in selection, to choose from. The new recording from Hans Davidsson, combining scholarship with generally reflective performances, is not least among these. Forget the difference thrown up by detailed comparison and I enjoyed it very much.

Brian Wilson

Contents
CD 1
Præludium in d minor [5:46]
Vater unser im Himmelreich: Versus 1 à 2 claviers manualiter [3:22]
Vater unser im Himmelreich: Versus 2 à 1 clavier con pédale [5:10]
Vater unser im Himmelreich: Cantus firmus in Ped [4:37]
Christe der du bist Tag und Licht [9:31]
Erhalt uns, Herr, bei deinem Wort [3:21]
Præludium in F [3:49]
Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu dir [6:00]
Christum wir sollen loben schon [2:40]
Herr Jesu Christ, dich zu uns wend [11:57]

CD 2
Præludium in C [5:16]
Partita über die Arie: Jesu du bist allzu schöne [15:12]
Nun bitten wir den heilgen Geist [3:34]
Auf meinen lieben Gott [11:11]
Capriccio in D [6:09]
Christ lag in Todesbanden: auf 2 Clav. con pedale [4:00]
Christ lag in Todesbanden: Fantasia [5:55]
Treuer Gott, ich muß Dich klagen/Freu dich sehr, o meine Seele [17:45]

CD 3
Allein gott in der Höh sei Ehr [5:21]
Ach wie nichtig, ach wie flüchtig [12:25]
A Second Fugue on the Prelude in a minor [6:08]
Wer nur den lieben Gott lässt walten [8:56]
Vom Himmel hoch da komm ich her [3:10]
Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ: Choral and Partita 1-5 [5:57]
Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ: auf 2. Clav. et Pedale [3:32]
Præludium in g minor - Chaconne in G [12:39]

 

 



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