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Joseph CALLAERTS (1830-1901)
Organ Works
Toccata, Op.29 [5:05]
Elegie, Op. 31, No. 10 [4:10]
Canzona, Op. 21, No.5 [2:01]
Symphonie pastorale pour orgue, Op. posth (1893) [19:16]*
Scherzo, Op. 31, No. 12 [8:03]
Larghetto (after Mozart's Clarinet Quintet, K581) [7:05]*
Première Sonate pour orgue en ut mineur [19:56]
Adoration, Op. 21, No. 4 [5:29]
Plechtige Optocht (after Peter Benoit's Oratorio 'Drama Christi') [3:34]*
Toccata Final, Op. 23 [6:31]
Peter Van de Velde (organ)
rec. 2018, Our Lady's Cathedral, Antwerp, Belgium
* Premiere recordings
Reviewed in stereo
AEOLUS AE11151 SACD [81:19]

To say that Joseph Callaerts has been given short shrift by the record companies is an understatement. Browsing the internet, I could only find a couple of collections where he has been included as one of several. Unless I am mistaken, this is the first album devoted exclusively to his organ music. In fact, I have never heard of him, so this latest release from Aeolus has been, for me at least, a voyage into unchartered territory.

Callaerts, born in Antwerp in 1830, received his earliest musical grounding in the choir of Our Lady's Church (later to become the city's cathedral in 1961). He later studied at the Conservatory in Brussels, where he won first prize for organ in 1856, under the mentorship of Jacques Lemmens. For the rest of his life he held organ and teaching posts, and in 1863 succeeded Jan Frans Volckerick as Antwerp's carillonneur. Aside from his organ compositions, he wrote an opera called Le Retour imprévu, a symphony, piano concerto, organ concerto, choral music, chamber music, songs and works for solo piano.

Two larger-scaled works form the bulk of the recording, each of almost twenty minutes duration. The First Sonata for Organ in C minor, in three movements, was published posthumously. The imposing opener showcases the full might of the instrument. An Andante cantabile follows; its florid dialogue between flute and oboe stops provides some welcome restraint before the assertive finale. The other large edifice is the Symphonie-Pastorale, dated 1893 and again published posthumously. It is drafted in five short movements. It introduces itself in grand style, which is followed by a Pastorale movement. An interesting feature of the third movement is the effet d'orage, where a violent thunderstorm is depicted. The effect is realized by the five lowest notes of the Greet organ sounding simultaneously. It is certainly impressive and startlingly vivid in SACD sound. Calm ensues in the fourth movement, and the work ends with a triumphant march.

Of the handful of short pieces, the Toccata, Op. 29, which opens the disc, is perhaps the composer's best known work, a virtuosic tour-de-force. Elegie is wistful and introspective, and Adoration is suffused with a reverential calm. Canzona is delicately contoured. Scherzo is animated and lively, whilst Toccata Final, Op. 23 pays tribute to Bach, Franck and Wagner with a flourish.

A couple of pieces are arrangements made by Callaerts. The Peter Benoit Plechtige Optocht from his oratorio Drama Christi is a processional march. However, it is the slow movement of Mozart's Clarinet Quintet which particularly lends itself to this treatment. Van de Velde's imaginative choice of a luminous registration is most appealing.

Van de Velde performs on the 1891 Pierre Schyven organ of Our Lady's Cathedral, Antwerp, an instrument aptly chosen, as Callaert's opinion was sought in its construction. In 2014-2018 the organ underwent an extensive restoration by the Belgium firm of Schumacher. This is the first recording to be made on the newly restored instrument. These are splendid performances, where excellent, artful musicianship is matched with impressive sound. I have nothing but praise for the dynamic range, spatial perspective and clarity of detail which the engineers have skilfully attained.

This is a first-class recording that successfully fills a niche.

Stephen Greenbank


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