Life Pictures: Scenes of the Life of King Christian IV

Life Pictures: Scenes of the Life of King Christian IV
English, Dutch, German & Spanish organ works before, around & after 1600
Peter Waldner
1610 Compenius Organ, Frederiksborg Castle Church, Denmark

Tastenfreuden 8. 79’44

The 1610 organ in the rear gallery of the Frederiksborg Castle Chapel is one of the most important surviving historic instruments. It was originally built by Esaias Compenius for the summer residence of Duke Heinrich Julius, Prince of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, with Michael Praetorius, organist and Kapellmeister of the Duke’s castle chapel, as the consultant. Compenius and Praetorius almost certainly met during the famous 1596 Gröningen Castle Organ Congress, an event which gathered 53 of the finest organists to test the new David Beck organ in Duke Heinrich Julius’s castle chapel of Gröningen. Although much smaller than the Gröningen organ, the Compenius organ had many similarities, not least a demonstration of the wide range of tone colours that could be produced, unusually, in the case of the Compenius organ, with all 1001 pipes (over 27 stops) made of wood. After Heinrich Julius’s death, his wife gave the organ to her brother, the music-loving Danish King Christian IV, where it was installed in the Frederiksborg castle by Compenius in 1617.

This CD, from the prolific Austrian keyboard player Peter Waldner, consists of a very wide range of English, Dutch, German and Spanish music composed around the year 1600. The 24 pieces are arranged in a sequence reflecting possible life events of the Danish King, ranging from birth to death, although few have any direct relation to the King himself or, indeed, the Compenius organ. The pieces reflect the King’s birth, childhood, coronation, wedding and children; a courtly feast, table music, the court jester; Christmas, a hunting scene, some Greek mythology, a Masquerade, love affairs, battles and war; the installation of the organ in Fredericksburg Castle and a concluding sequence of evening entertainment, a ‘goodnight’ and a ‘dream’.

The range of colours of the organ is well covered, although there is very limited use of the particularly interesting group of nine pedal stops – the same number as found on both the two manuals. Perhaps in an effort to demonstrate the range of colours, some of Peter Waldner’s registration choices are very far from ‘authentic’, notably in several of the English pieces. Of the 14 composers represented (plus five anonymous pieces) Sweelinck is the most prominent, with four pieces, followed by Scheidt with three. Hassler is the only composer included who was present at the Gröningen Castle Organ Congress. Given the historic background to the organ, it is a shame that Michael Praetorius is not represented at all. The Compenius organ was intended as a purely secular instrument, so the inclusion of many dances is therefore appropriate.

The main division of the organ has a 16′ Rancket, whose distinctive growl can be heard in several pieces. The second division has two reed stops and sounds a little distant from the main manual, an effect used often on this recording. The organ is pumped by four hand-operated bellows behind the organ, hovering high above the rear of the case. Their occasional gentle clunking sound is a nice addition to the background of the recording, a reminder that until historically relatively recently, all organs were pumped by human power. The meantone tuning of the organ results in some beautifully serene final cadences.

Peter Waldner’s playing is musically sensitive, accurate and well-articulated, although the relatively close recording focus sometimes accentuates the articulation gaps between notes in a way that wouldn’t be apparent to a ‘live’ listener in the acoustic of the large space of the castle chapel. The booklet gives a detailed description of the organ with the specification, and photos of the sumptuous case.