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Johann Gottfried MÜTHEL (1728-1788)
Complete Fantasies & Choral Preludes
Fantasie E flat major [6:11]
Herzlich tut mich verlangen G minor [4:26]
Fantasie G major [3:30]
Was mein Gott will, gescheh allzeit A minor [1:40]
Variationen über "Jesu, meine Freude“ D minor [10:31]
Fantasie F major [5:58]
O Traurigkeit, o Herzeleid G minor [3:12]
Praeludium C major [4:09]
Fugenfantasie C major [12:59]
Fantasie E flat major [7:09]
Fantasie G minor [7:37]
Léon Berben (organ)
rec. 2017, Saint Luke's Church, Mühlberg, Germany
AEOLUS AE11131 SACD [67:22]

This is the first time I've come across the name Johann Gottfried Müthel. For other newcomers, he was a German composer and noted keyboard virtuoso. Reading around, he is frequently billed as J.S Bach's last pupil, having gone to study with him just three months before the Master’s death in 1750. He was to form a lifelong friendship with Johann Sebastian's son Carl Philipp Emanuel.

He was born in Mölln, Germany, the fifth of nine children. His father Christian Caspar was an organist and friend of Georg Philipp Telemann. He gave his son his initial musical tuition. Later Johann Gottfried studied with Johann Paul Kunzen in Lübeck. His first professional post was as a court organist and harpsichordist for Duke Christian Ludwig II of Mecklenburg-Schwerin. The Bach sojourn, more studies and more musical posts followed. The next significant milestone was 1753 when he moved to Riga, remaining there for the rest of his life as organist of St Peter’s Church.

Müthel's style sits comfortably between the Baroque and Classical eras, in much the same way as that of W.F. Bach, C.P.E. Bach and G.A. Benda. The eminent English music scholar Charles Burney (1726-1814) wrote of his compositions that they are ' full of novelty, taste, grace, and contrivance, that I should not hesitate to rank them among the greatest productions of the present age'. He also went on to compare his style to that of C.P.E. Bach.

Müthel's compositional oeuvre is modest by any standards and keyboard works make up the bulk. The fantasies, as their title suggest, make play of imaginative invention. They sound like well wrought improvisations. This is especially the case with the Fugenfantasie in C major. At 13 minutes, the lengthiest piece on the programme, it demonstrates Müthel's ingenious weaving of fugal elements into a fantasia structure. The Fantasie F major is another gem. Built on simpler lines, Berben's resourcefulness in the way of registrations invests the piece with a array of coloristic variety. The Fantasie E flat major, which opens the CD, sounds quite four-square to begin, but very soon the composer's imaginative skill gets to work, impressing the listener with stunning flourishes and ornate passages. The Fantasie G minor, which ends the disc, is a breathtaking tour-de-force.

The choral preludes may not impress to quite the same extent. Herzlich tut mich verlangen in G minor is composed and collected, whilst O Traurigkeit, O Herzeleid in G minor is serene and reverential. The Variationen über 'Jesu, meine Freude' in D minor offer more in the way of variety and interest.

The Aeolus/Léon Berben collaboration has done much to champion the rarities of the organ repertoire, including discs of music by such names as Melchior Schildt, Vincent Lübeck, Joan Cabanilles and Johann Ulrich Steigleder. This latest Müthel release is yet another feather in their cap. As with the other albums from this label that I've had the pleasure of reviewing, the sound quality is first class. I particularly like the colouristic range of the Fransiscus Volckland organ. Originating from 1729, it underwent a major rebuild in 1823. It's a spectacular sounding instrument and looks impressively striking in its Saint Luke's Church setting. There are some beautifully produced photographs of this imposing structure included in the booklet.

Stephen Greenbank




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