Organs in Dialogue

Organs in Dialogue
Javier Artigas & João Vaz
1779 & 1864 organs of Clérigos Church, Oporto, Portugal
Arkhé Music 2016002. 64’07

Music by Boaventuba, Portugal, Ferbenac, Gill, Lidón, Bondaczuk.

During the 18th century, Iberian churches often adopted the earlier Italian plan of having two organs, each in (usually) identical architectural cases positioned on balconies and speaking towards each other across the choir. The practice has its roots in St Mark’s Venice in the 16th century. Clérigos Church in Oporto is one such example, its two organs dating from 1779 with major restorations in 1864. Rather like French organs, organ building in the Iberian peninsula reached a technical peak in the 18th century at a time when the music written for the organ was experiencing something of a decline. This CD reflects both those aspects; of organ building and composition.

The two organs were built in 1779 by Sebastián Ciais Ferráz de Acuña – or, at least, the so-called ‘Epistle’ organ was. It is not clear if the ‘Gospel’ organ was completed then, but the case and space for the organ was provided for. Incidentally, the names derive from which side of the choir the organs are – the Epistle side is on the right as you face the altar from the nave, the Gospel side is on the left, both names reflecting the liturgical position from where the two Bible was read. Despite their appearance, both organs are single manual, the organists hidden behind what I assume is a false pipe display. Both have the characteristic Iberian divided stops. The Epistle organ is slightly larger, but both have the distinctive horizontal en-chamade reeds projecting from the front of the cases. In 1864, organ marker António José dos Santos worked on both organs, and their sound reflects that period, although clearly retaining the 18th century roots of the sound and registration practices.

The CD features Portuguese and Spanish composers dating from the second half of the 18th and first part of the 19th century. There are solo organ pieces by José Lidó, Marcos Portugal, and Francisco de São Boaventura (a Carmelite friar from Oporto); an organ sonata for four hands by the Aragonese composer Ramón Ferreñac; an anonymous Portuguese sonata for two organs and a set of verses for two organs written for the celebration of the None of the Ascension of Christ by Joaquín Pedrosa Gil, organist of Ourense Cathedral. The CD is concluded by Cantate Domino Canticum Novum by the modern Brazilian composer Daniel Bondaczuk (b1984), especially composed for the Organs of the Clérigos Church. It was the winner of the “Joaquim Simões da Hora” prize at the 1st Composition Competition of the International Festival IN SPIRITUM.

With all due respect to the earlier composers, writing at a time when music was not intended to be particularly spiritually or musically deep, by far the most interesting piece is the modern piece. Along with three of the earlier pieces, this is its world première recording. It very successfully demonstrates the wide variety of sounds as well as the interplay between the two organs.

The two organists, Javier Artigas and João Vaz, play with conviction. They quite correctly take the music seriously, despite its frequently rather slight musical content. There are no obvious complications of sitting on opposite sides of the church, hidden from each other, and no evidence that I can spot from the photographs of video monitors to aid timing.

More information can be found here, including photographs of the church and organs.

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