Koororgal Martinikerk Groningen
Wim van Beek, organ
Helior HGWB02. 77’08.
DuMage, Clérambault, JS Bach, Mozart, CPE Bach, Zipoli, Daquin, Paradisi.
Although the Martinikerk choir organ was only acquired in 1939, it has a much earlier history. There are no records, but is seems that it was originally built around 1742 for the St Elisabethsdal cloister in the south Netherlands, probably by Jean-Baptiste Le Picard, the best known of the French family of organ builders. In 1799, during the French occupation, the cloister was closed, the organ and other furnishings sold off, and the church demolished. The two-manual organ was divided between two churches, the Positif division going to a church in Heythuysen. After the inevitable 19th century tinkering with specification and pitch, the organ was sold to the Groningen Martinikerk in 1939, where it was used for about 20 years before being put into storage. It wasn’t until 2001 that the organ was restored and used again in the choir of the church. It is now apparently the only example of a Franco-Walloon organ from the Louis XV period in the northern Netherlands. This CD was recorded in 2002, presumably to demonstrate the newly restored organ by Wim van Beek, the organist of the church since 1956.
The chosen pieces are rather curious. Rather than focus on the French or Belgium repertoire for which the organ was obviously intended, the bulk of the programme is by JS and CPE Bach and Mozart, with only five of the 32 tracks being by French composers. Although this does show the organ’s versatility, there are a vast number of more suitable pieces that could have been played. And, at the other end of the church, is the magnificent Schnitger organ (reviewed above) – ideal for the Bachs and Mozart.
To rub salt into the French wound, there are several registration curiosities in the French pieces. For example, the distinctive French combination of the two 8’ stops is avoided. And although the programme note suggests that a typical Grand Jeu is used in Clérambault’s Capriccio, the registration noted uses the 2’ Doublette and Fourniture stops, neither of them part of a French Grand Jeu, but omits the Cornet, an essential part of that registration. Indeed, the Cornet stop is only used once, and then not in a French registration, but in a CPE Bach variation.
Incidentally, even before the organ’s history started developing, the (architectural) choir of the Martinikerk was also going through its own complicated history. As is common with most churches in the Netherlands, the Catholic concept of nave and choir, with altar at the far end of the choir, was studiously resisted in post-Reformation days. It was soon just being used as a storage space, then as a drill hall for guardsmen, a library, and then as a bicycle parking lot. A wall dividing it from the rest of the church was built in 1840, and it was nearly demolished a few years later. However, in 1923 a series of Renaissance murals was discovered in the triforium, and their restoration led to the choir being brought back into use for services – hence the arrival of this organ in 1939.