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Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Siegfried Idyll - Organ Transcriptions
Die Feen: Overture [13:35]
Lohengrin: Prelude to Act 1 [8:22]
Das Liebesverbot Overture [11:06]
Rienzi Overture [13:42]
Siegfried Idyll [22:29]
Song to the Evening Star from Tannhäuser [4:11]
Transcriptions by Edwin Lemare & Axel Langmann
Hansjörg Albrecht (organ)
rec. Woehl Organ, Parish Church Herz Jesu, Munich

As I’ve said before, I’m rather fond of transcriptions generally and I’ve often wondered how Wagner’s orchestral textures would translate to the organ. Luckily, this disc arrived so I now have a proper idea! It also turns out this is not Hansjörg Albrecht’s first recording of Wagner transcriptions for organ so there is plenty to choose from, all of which are available on the Oehms label.

The disc begins with the first recording of one of Wagner’s early overtures, that which was written for Wagner’s first completed opera “Die Feen” and dates from when the composer was only 20. The opening is quite restrained but soon things pick up and the main theme, starting about 40 seconds in, works well on the registers of the organ. This theme is varied and then leads to a rather ecstatic outburst lasting from 3 minutes on. The power generated here on the organ is remarkable and more than compensates for the lack of a full orchestra. The more reflective sections work well just as well, around 4 minutes in, there is a quieter section which is wonderfully played and sounds rather lovely. The piece progresses along nicely, gradually growing in strength and power leading to a very noisy and joyful conclusion and it is all captured very well in this performance. This transcription was made by the composer and arranger Axel Langmann and certainly catches the jollity and slightly mad side to this rarely heard and uncharacteristically un-Wagner like sounding work in a most convincing way.

Dating from much later in Wagner’s composing career, the prelude to the first act of “Lohengrin” is well enough known and here does not suffer unduly in being arranged for organ by Lemare. The mystical opening theme originally for flutes, oboes and strings works very well here and is slowly modified and developed into a rather splendid mini tone poem created from the opening themes. There are obviously differences in this arrangement because of the lack of instrumental colour but the thing that comes across mostly here is how much detail is actually included. All the majestic power of the grand statement of the main theme at around 6½ minutes is captured here and the gradual diminuendo of the sounds as the music simmers down are controlled very well. The last 30 seconds or so with the very quiet high notes at the top of the organ register are particularly effective. Really marvellous stuff!

Next follows another early opera overture, that from “Das Liebesverbot” again in a transcription by Axel Langmann who certainly catches the atmosphere of the totally bonkers beginning of the work on the organ. The opening peal of bells certainly works well here and the opening themes will make you smile. The general atmosphere of jollity (this is supposed to be comic opera after all) is broken at several points by a rather sombre section but this dissipates and the bouncy music resumes before a more restrained tune about 2’30’’ which works splendidly on the organ. After some more pealing of bells around 4 minutes in, the bouncy theme takes over again, with much ensuing virtuosity for the performer. The general happy nature of the work continues for much of the remainder of the 11 minutes and there are some clever effects (especially with bells and brass organ stops at about 7’55’’) used to add to the fun. The work builds in difficulty and volume towards its conclusion and the last 2 minutes or so are punctuated by fanfares and lots of general merriment all over the place. This piece is very well played throughout and really gives the organist the opportunity to show off their virtuosity on the keys, pedals and stops which he does with considerable aplomb.

Again, I was very surprised as to how orchestral the organ sounded and how close the tonal makeup of the sounds were in the Prelude to “Reinzi”, a work which is more often heard on Wagner orchestral music CDs than as part of the full opera. The main “prayer” theme (marked “Gebet” in the score), occurring initially at 1’25’’ and then sporadically throughout the prelude suits the timbre and power of the organ well and the power generated by the full orchestra is certainly compensated for again here. Here I was also surprised by the sprightliness of the organ in conveying the orchestral textures, especially in the slightly crazy parts originally for strings which occur at 3’30’’ and elsewhere. Much of the music in this piece is joyful and powerful and the organ is certainly able to give this impression very well. There are few missing details here yet the amount of detail included in the organ version is again quite remarkable. Lemare certainly knew how to write and arrange for organ and capture the atmosphere of a work for an entirely different sound world to that for which it was originally intended. Add to this the fact that Mr. Albrecht certainly sounds to be enjoying himself here, all adding to jovial and happy music making. The ending of the work is very loud and blares out with great gusto. I really enjoyed getting to know this work in this arrangement as I feel it works superbly in this environment.

The arrangement (again by Lemare) of the often maligned “Siegfried Idyll”, written by Wagner for his wife Cosima’s birthday also comes across amazingly well. There is some wonderful playing here and some very pretty birdsong effects towards the end which aren’t obviously in the original but fit the whole atmosphere of the work very well (I can almost imagine Cosima sat on the staircase listening with the birds joining in!). It’s also surprising how quiet and restrained the organ can be in this piece – some of the softer sections are quite beautiful. It’s a very well made transcription which here is played superbly. The last few minutes of the work are particularly evocative and the organ is well suited to maintaining the long held notes which conclude the piece. It’s another of those works in which you can lose yourself whilst listening.

The final piece on the disc is a surprisingly speedy reading of “Lied an den abendstern” from “Tannhäuser”, also arranged by Lemare. I know this piece far better in Liszt’s arrangement for solo piano (S444) where it is entitled “O du mein holder abendstern” and can be played one of two ways, with or without the reflective introduction. Here again, the organ is marvellous at holding the quiet, long held notes near the start and the playing is amazingly heartfelt in the introductory section. The song itself is presented with a shorter lead in than Liszt’s version and is a song to the evening, all captured magnificently well and fading away quietly into the ether.

This is a really interesting and well put together disc of wonderful music. The transcriptions from full orchestra to organ work amazingly well and the recording is very clear and bright. There are one or two extraneous noises here but these are few and far between and don’t detract from the music. Mr. Albrecht also seems to really relish playing this music, he copes splendidly with the obvious difficulties of these transcriptions and this all adds to the high quality of the music making. This comes across particularly in the cheery works which are very enthusiastically played and will certainly put a smile on your face. The CD itself is smartly presented and the cover notes are informative. I am now going to have to investigate the other recordings by the very talented organist Hansjörg Albrecht!

Jonathan Welsh

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