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Philipp WOLFRUM (1854-1919)
Sonate op. 1 (1882) [19:58]
Zweite Sonate op. 10 (1883) [22:13]
Dritte Sonate op. 14 (1898) [35:49]
Martin Sander (organ)
Rec. Civic Hall, Heidelberg, 27-29 August 2004. DDD
MDG 606 1319-2 [78:00]

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The music of Philipp Wolfrum falls into the category of music too often ignored in modern performance and recordings. Like so much late 19th century and early 20th century organ music, it was swept aside in the historical revivals of the 20th century for being too "romantic". This is ironic given that Wolfrum’s contemporaries found him not romantic enough. The romantic organs that originally played this music have also too often been removed, rebuilt, revoiced, or otherwise adapted as tastes changed throughout the century.

On this album we have a rare opportunity to experience true German Romantic repertoire performed on the organ the composer knew and one restored to its original configuration. Organist Martin Sander’s talent shines brightly here. He is well in control of the instrument, while bringing this forgotten music to life.

Wolfrum was a student of Rheinberger’s and a devotee of Bach. The technical mastery required for both of these composers is exceeded in Wolfrum’s own writing. The three Sonatas here are very different. They require an organist of great technical ability and musical understanding to raise them from the level of romantic slush and technical exercises, and Sander does this exceedingly well.

The first of the three sonatas is a fiery, powerful explosion of sound. From the very beginning we hear the true German Romantic sound with full foundation tone, reeds snarling their way through, and upper work just shimmering above. Sander gives this work lots of energy through both loud and soft passages. The contrasting registrations and varieties of colour make it a joy to listen to. In the softest parts of the second movement the gentle flutes are under-girded by a rumbling Untersatz, followed by the silvery strings the sound of which Sander expertly builds to a forte then brings back to calm. The closing fugue brings images of Bach, but with the harmonic development and musical line of a 19th century master. Sander combines these elements into an exciting climax with technical perfection.

The calmer second sonata allows the organist an opportunity to show off more of the organ’s solo colours. It is more romantic in nature than the first but very joyful, and Sander does a good job of injecting it with lots of energy. It ends, like the first sonata, with a fugue that taxes the organist’s talent and technique, but Sander tackles it well. The third sonata is much longer and explores many more musical ideas than either of the first two. Throughout we hear beautiful contrasts and the best of this historic organ’s many varied colors. When listening to this sonata, especially the second movement, one can’t help but be reminded of the organ music of Brahms and Mendelssohn. Wolfrum’s composition reaches a few decades back for this movement. Throughout the lengthy final movement, a theme and variations now seated back in the late 19th century, the organist takes us from a gentle beginning to a satisfying full ending.

The connoisseur of German Romantic music cannot afford to be without this wonderful performance of music too rarely heard all performed by a true master.

Brent Johnson

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