Krebs: Clavier-Übung III

Krebs: Clavier-Übung III
Jan von Busch, organ
MDG Audiomax 706 1888-2. 78’34

Six Sonatinas Krebs-WV 801-806, Six Sonatas Krebs-WV 832-837  

This CD produces an interesting meeting of minds between the composer Johann Ludwig Krebs and the organ builder Johann Georg Stein, both born a few miles from each other (near Weimar) and at about the same time (1712/13). Both absorbed local influences in their craft, before stylistically moving into a new style. Krebs, of course, was the favourite pupil of JS Bach, leading to Bach’s comment about him being the “best crayfish (Krebs) in the brook (Bach)”. It is to Krebs that we owe the preservation of much of Bach’s organ music. His own organ compositions are often based on recognisable Bach pieces, often extended to quite extraordinary lengths and developed into the early Classical style. So it something of a relief to hear him composing in miniature form.

His Clavier-Übung III, unlike Bach’s volume of the same name, is clearly intended for harpsichord rather than organ, although it transfers well to the organ. Its six Sonatinas are delightful little works in three movements, generally in the Baroque tradition, and only lasting about five minutes each. The six Sonatas are later in style and display more examples of the emerging Classical style of keyboard playing. Again of three movements, they average about 8 minutes length.

Although born in Thuringia, Johann Georg Stein soon moved to Northern Germany, settling in Lüneburg. Until recently there was thought to be only one surviving organ by him, until Baroque-Church Warlitzthe small 1770 organ at Warlitz (west of Hamburg) was not only identified as being by him, but was also almost in its original form, apart from the case pipes which had been removed during the 1914-18 war. It had not been maintained for many years until it was restored in 2004. The pipes had not been altered in any way since 1770.  The organ is one manual with nine stops and pull-down pedals, added in the 1860s. It retains much of the Thuringian style, apart from the inclusion of a Dulcian reed stop – a rare survival that can be heard on track 11. The Dulcian and 4’ Saliciena stops are divided into treble and bass, allowing for solos to be played. I am not what the temperament is, but it copes with some extreme keys, using both G#/Ab and D#/Eb notes, suggesting an equal, or very mildly unequal temperament.

The playing is generally fine, although there is some over-articulation and an occasional rather neo-baroque sense of touch, for example, in over-slurring pairs of notes. The use of big rallentandos can make a tiny piece appear to grind to a halt. The winding of the organ is obviously lively (as it should be), so release of chords has to be done carefully to avoid the sort of wind bounce heard at the end of track 16. The programme notes given full information on the back page of the registrations used, but you have to skirt back to the front page to find the track numbers.

Photographs of the organ, pre and post restoration, can be found at here.

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