Happy Birthday, JS Bach!

International Early Music Day
Saturday 21 March 2020
Happy Birthday, JS Bach!
Andrew Benson-Wilson (organ)
Poppy Walshaw (cello), Annabel Knight (flute)
Art of Moog: 
21st Century Hyper-Bach on Synthesizers
St Giles-in-the-Fields, London

St Giles organAdvanced Notice – more details to follow
Three informal 45′ afternoon Bach Organ and solo instrument recitals
(Free entry – retiring collection)
4pm.   Andrew Benson-Wilson + Poppy Walshaw
(Cello Suite 2 in d)
5pm.   Andrew Benson-Wilson + Annabel Knight
(Flute Partita)
6pm.   Andrew Benson-Wilson + Poppy Walshaw
(Cello Suite 3 in C)

Evening concert @ 7.30
(Ticketing details to be confirmed)

ART OF MOOG
21st-Century Hyper-Bach on Synthesizers

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Orgelbuch des Klosters St. Walburg zu Eichstätt (um 1700)

Orgelbuch des Klosters St. Walburg zu Eichstätt (um 1700)
Toccaten, Canzonen, Praeambula und Capriccio
Ed. Raimund Schächer
ISMN: 979-0-50222-381-6,  63 pages
Cornetto-Verlag, Stuttgart. CP1436

Orgelbuch des Klosters Sankt Walburg zu Eichstätt (um 1700)

This edition is based on a manuscript (now in Regensburg) that originally belonged to Sister Maria Anna Barbara Schmaus (1653-1730), a nun who entered the Benedictine Abbey of St. Walburg Eichstätt (midway between Munich and Nuremberg) until her death to 1730. Although she was the owner, she was probably not the scribe of the organ book. The composers of the pieces are unknown. The manuscript contains 182 organ pieces on 136 pages and was clearly intended for liturgical purposes in the Abbey. This edition includes 34 of the pieces, all short (one lasting just 13 bars), and of varying quality. Continue reading

Andrew Benson-Wilson: Three Westminster Abbey organists

Music-at-Hill – Midtown concerts

Friday 13 September 2019, 1:10pm

St Giles-in-the-Fields
60 St Giles High Street. London, WC2H 8LG

Andrew Benson-Wilson
plays organ music by
Three Westminster Abbey Organists
1668 John Blow; 1679 Henry Purcell;
1695 Blow re-appointed; 1708-1727 William Croft

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During the period from 1668 and 1708, Westminster Abbey appointed three distinguished organists, the first of which, John Blow, was the teacher of his two successors, Henry Purcell and William Croft. In 1679 John Blow stepped down from his Abbey post in favour of his talented student, Purcell, only returning on Purcell’s death in 1695. William Croft replaced John Blow after his death in 1708, having previously been organist at St Anne’s Soho and Master of the Children of the Chapel Royal. He is most famed today for his Funeral Sentences, performed at Handel’s funeral in 1759 and at every British state funeral since then.

William Drake’s reconstruction of the Dallam/Smith/England/Lincoln/Gray & Davison organ in St Giles-in-the-Fields is one of London’s most important historic musical instruments. It contains some of the oldest pipework in London, going back to the time of Blow and Purcell in the mid to late 17th century.

Organ information can be found here.
Free admission, retiring collection.
The church is just behind Centre Point/Tottenham Court Road tube station.

Prom 21: Olivier Latry

Prom 21: The Art of Transcription
Olivier Latry, organ
Royal Albert Hall, 4 August 2019

In what must be the most inept bit of programming in musical history, the BBC Proms has seen fit, for yet another year, to programme the only organ recital of the Proms at 11am on a Sunday, when most organists will be earning a pittance playing for church services. I cannot think of another instrument where the choice of a specific day and time could exclude a key part of the potential audience. That said, there was a pretty impressive audience for this concert, far more than at the previous Sunday’s evening Prom of Messiaen’s Des canyons aux étoiles. And what a treat they had. Olivier Latry is one of the organists at Notre Dame who when not on his week’s turn of duty there has built an enviable reputation at a touring recitalist and teacher. His programme focused on the art of transcription, an aspect of organ performance that dates back to early Renaissance times but reached its peak in England in the 19th century when W T Best became Liverpool Corporation Organists (in 1855) and, over a period spanning around 40 years, gave three organ recitals a week in St George’s Hall. He was the first organist to give a recital in the Royal Albert Hall, in 1871.

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Andrew Benson-Wilson plays Bach: influenced by Reincken

Mayfair Organ Concerts
The Grosvenor Chapel
South Audley Street, Mayfair, London W1K 2PA
Tuesday 13 August 2019, 1:10

Andrew Benson-Wilson
plays music by
J S Bach
influenced by Johann Adam Reincken

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Johann Adam Reincken (1643-1722) was organist of Hamburg’s famous Katharinenkirche and a close friend of Buxtehude.  This recital is linked to a recital of his music given earlier this year at St George’s, Hanover Square. That recital included his monumental chorale fantasia on An Wasserflüssen Babylon composed around 1650. At around 20 minutes long, it the longest known piece of its type in the whole 17th century North German repertoire. It was known by Bach who, while at school in Luneburg, aged around 15 copied the entire piece out from a copy owned by Georg Böhm. It is believed that he also travelled to Hamburg to hear Reincken play. In 1720, shortly before Reincken’s death, Bach visited Hamburg and improvised a lengthy fantasia on the same chorale in homage to Reincken, who commented: “I thought that this art was dead, but I see that it lives in you”. Bach also transcribed several of Reincken’s instrumental pieces for keyboard.

This recital includes one of Bach’s Reincken transcriptions, a Toccata that is clearly influenced by Reincken’s dramatic style, and Bach’s chorale prelude on An Wasserflüssen Babylon, which includes a very obvious reference to Reincken’s chorale fantasia. It ends with Bach’s giant Fantasia in G minor, which may have been played during Bach’s 1720 visit to Hamburg. The accompanying Fugue is based on a popular Dutch tune and might have been Bach’s homage to Reincken, who was born in The Netherlands. 

Toccata in D minor  BWV 913
An Wasserflüssen Babylon BWV 653
Sonata in A minor (after Reincken
Hortus musicus) BWV 965
Fantasia in G minor BWV 542i

The organ is by William Drake
Admission is free, with a retiring collection

Andrew Benson-Wilson plays Reincken

Mayfair Organ Concerts
Andrew Benson-Wilson plays 
Johann Adam Reincken (1643-1722)
St George’s, Hanover Square, London W1S 1FX
30 April 2019 @ 1:10pm 

Toccata in G (Andreas Bach Book)
Toccata in A (Anon?)
Chorale Fantasia: An Wasserflüssen Babylon

Johann Adam Reincken was one of the most important and influential 17th-century North German organist-composers. He forms a unique link between the Sweelinck influenced organists of the earlier part of the century and JS Bach. Little is known about his life, and very few of his organ compositions survive. He was born to North German parents in Deventer in The Netherlands around 1643. An earlier supposed birthdate of 1623 is now accepted as incorrect. He moved to Hamburg in 1654, aged just 11, to study with the famed organist of the Katharinenkirche, Heinrich Scheidemann, a pupil of Sweelinck. After a brief return to Deventer, he came back to Hamburg in 1659 as Scheidemann’s assistant, replacing him as organist in 1663 on Scheidemann’s death. As was the custom of the time, he married one of Scheidemann’s daughters in 1665. He remained there for 60 years until his death in 1722. As well as his church duties, he co-founded the Hamburg Opera and was involved in the city’s musical life. He is known from two pictures dating from around 1674; the portrait painting and the now well-known ‘Musical Company’ painting by Johannes Voorhout.

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Bach: Chorale Partitas

J S Bach
Chorale Partitas, BWV 766-768 & 770

Stephen Farr, organ
Resonus Classics RES10120. 55’46

Ach, was soll ich Sünder machen BWV 770
Christ, der du bist der helle Tag BWV 766
O Gott, du frommer Gott BWV 767
Sei gegrüßet, Jesu gütig BWV 768

Stephen Farr continues his series of Bach organ recordings with the four Chorale Partitas – variations sets of Lutheran chorales. None of them exists in autograph, so dating is problematical. They are almost certainly early works, possibly composed around the time Bach was at Arnstadt, or perhaps even earlier while Bach was under the influence of Georg Böhm, who Bach knew, and probably studied with while he was at school in Lüneburg. Böhm wrote many variation sets (as did Pachbel), a compositional style that goes back the Sweelinck, the Amsterdam instigator of the North German/Hamburg school of the early to mid-17th-century. It is not clear whether Bach’s examples were intended for performance during church services or, indeed, on the organ. Most are equally suitable for clavichord or harpsichord in a domestic setting. Continue reading

Wednesdays at 5.55

Wednesdays at 5.55
Organ Recitals at the Royal Festival Hall
W Harry Hoyle
Clontarf Press 2018
Hardback. 230 pages, 235x156mm, ISBN 978-1-999685706

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For many organ music lovers, the phrase Wednesdays at 5.55 will have a particular resonance. Between 1954 and 1989, London’s Royal Festival Hall held early evening organ recitals on the influential and controversial Harrison & Harrison organ, inaugurated in 1954. During those years there were a total of 545 organ recitals given by nearly 200 international organists attracting at its peak audiences of around 1500. This record of these recitals, and the music and performers involved, is very clearly a labour of love for the author, W Harry Hoyle. The publicity blurb sums up the book well – “Drawing on the Southbank Centre archive, private paper collections and the memories of many performers, in this comprehensive and engaging book he tells the story of how the series was planned, which organists performed, the repertoire they played and how the recitals were received by the press and by the public. He also reviews the social changes that led to the ending of ‘Wednesdays at 5.55’ and the search for the best way to present the highlights of the organ repertoire on this unique instrument“. And that is exactly what it does, in an absorbing and informative read. Continue reading

Zachow: Complete Organ Works

Friedrich Wilhelm Zachow: Complete Organ Works
Chorale Settings • Chorale Partitas • Free Organ Works
144 pages  • ISMN: 979-0-001-14049-2 • Softbound
Edition Schott ED 9922

Friedrich Wilhelm Zachow (1663-1712) is best known as the teacher of the young Handel in their hometown of Halle. He was organist of the principal city church, the Marienkirche, also known as the Marktkirche Unser Lieben Frauen and Liebfrauenkirche, a post held earlier in the 17th century by Samuel Scheidt.  The little 1664 organ on a gallery above the altar that Zachow and Handel certainly knew still exists. JS Bach was offered the post in succession to Zachow, but turned it down, leaving it until 1746 for his son WF Bach to eventually become the organist. Zachow’s father was from nearby Leipzig where he was town piper. His church music was criticised as being too long and complicated by the pietest clergy, who preferred something more approachable. He taught Handel violin, oboe organ, and harpsichord along with music theory. He teaching was clearly successful, as Handel became organist of the Halle Cathedral aged just 17. His later compositions show several influences from Zachow, as well as borrowings.

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RFH International Organ Series: Renée Anne Louprette

Renée Anne Louprette, organ
Royal Festival Hall, 19 September 2018

JS Bach: Prelude and Fugue in G
Marin Marais: Suite from Alcyone (arr. Louprette)
Jehan Alain: Variations sur un thème de Clément Jannequin
Ad Wammes: Mytò
Nadia Boulanger: Improvisation from 3 Pièces
Duruflé: Suite, Op.5

The Royal Festival Hall’s ‘International Organ Series‘, most of which is made up of UK, rather than international organists, made up for that fact by replacing an indisposed UK performer with Renée Anne Louprette, an American organist who spent some of her student days in London. She has held posts in several important New York churches, alongside academic posts, and is now University Organist and Coordinator of the Organ Department at the Rutgers University Mason Gross School of the Arts in New Jersey.

Her largely French programme opened with Bach’s flamboyant Prelude and Fugue in G (BWV 541), a distinctly non-French piece. From the very first few notes, it was clear that Renée Anne Louprette is an outstanding Bach interpreter. Her sense of touch, rhetoric and the way she sensitively articulated the opening flourish and the repeated notes in both Prelude and Fugue showed a real (and sadly rather rare) understanding of Baroque concepts such as the hierarchy of the bar. Her choice of registration was spot-on. Continue reading

Scheidt: Tabulatur-Buch, Görlitz 1650

Samuel Scheidt: Tabulatur-Buch, Görlitz 1650
111 four-part Chorale Settings for Organ or Keyboard
116 pages  • ISMN: 979-0-001-13600-6 • Softbound
Edition Schott ED 22325

Samuel Scheidt is one of the finest of the North German school of organist-composers that stemmed from the teaching of Sweelinck in Amsterdam. Born in Halle in 1587, he became assistant organist the Moritzkirche in 1603, before studying in Amsterdam between 1607 and 1609. He returned as Court organist to the Margrave of Brandenburg in Halle, where he was soon joined by Michael Praetorius. The Thirty Years War disrupted musical life in Germany. The Margrave fled, and the music of the Court ceased. Scheidt took to private teaching before eventually becoming director of music for the major Halle city churches (Marketkirche, Moritzkirche, and St Ulrich).

In 1624 Scheidt wrote his monumental three-volume Tabulatura Nova, an important collection of works for organ, harpsichord, or clavichord. Scheidt never recovered his earlier financial security and died in some financial trouble. His last publication was this 1650 Görlitzer Tabulaturbuchnamed after the city that commissioned the collection of four-part harmonisations of Lutheran chorales. Although there are a few simple harmonised settings, many of them are adventurous little pieces demonstrating Scheidt’s advanced keyboard technique and musical thinking as the early Baroque style of composition developed. Whether or not you would ever use them in a liturgical setting (as seems to have been intended, judging from Scheidt’s introduction where he mentions that the pieces are for “gentlemen organists to play with the Christian community”), they are worth exploring.

This Schott edition is clearly printed, in landscape format. The introduction by editor Klaus Beckmann (in German and English) gives background to the pieces and the editorial process. The critical commentary is, as usual, only in German. Preview pages can be view here. This is apparently the last in the Schott series ‘Masters of the North German Organ School‘, although I hope that is rethought as scholarship on this important repertoire continues to evolve and there must be more composers and pieces to be discovered and edited.

Andrew Benson-Wilson – Organ recital: ‘From England’

Andrew Benson-Wilson
plays organ music
‘From England’

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Stadtkirche (Temple Allemand)
Biel/Bienne, Switzerland
21 September 2018, 12:30

A recital on the reconstruction of the original 1517 ‘Swallow’s nest’ organ (Hochwandorgel) in the Stadtkirche (Temple Allemand) Biel/Bienne. Music by Anon, Dunstable, Preston, Tallis, Byrd, and Bull, the latter played on the Hauptorgel.

Anon: Robertsbridge Codex (c1360) Estampie
John Dunstable (c1390-1453) Sub Tuam Protectionem
Anon (c1530) Felix Namque
Thomas Preston (c1500-1563) Uppon la mi re
Thomas Tallis (c1505-1585) Alleluia Per te Dei genitrix
William Byrd (1538-1623) Callino Casturame
John Bull (1562-1628) Salve Regina (5 verses) Continue reading

Andrew Benson-Wilson plays Scheidt: Tabulatura Nova III – A Lutheran Vespers

Andrew Benson-Wilson
plays
Samuel Scheidt (1587-1654)
Tabulatura Nova III
A Lutheran organ Vespers

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The Queen’s College Chapel, Oxford
Wednesday 24 October, 1:10

Andrew’s series of concerts featuring the North German pupils of Sweelinck (the ‘Orpheus of Amsterdam’) continues with this, the second of two recitals of music by one of Sweelinck’s most distinguished pupils, Samuel Scheidt. His influential three-volume Tabulatura Nova was published in 1624 and is one of the most important of all the many collections of organ music. Its 58 pieces are a comprehensive demonstration of compositional styles. Whereas the first two volumes included a variety of sacred and secular pieces in different styles, Volume III consists entirely of Lutheran liturgical music. It opens with settings for the Ordinary of the Mass, followed by the settings of the hymns and Magnificat for a Lutheran Vespers. It ends with one of the most extraordinary pieces of the whole 17th century North German organ repertoire: the powerful Modus pleno Organo pedaliter: Benedicamus à  6 Voc, its six voices divided between four on the manuals and two on the pedals.

Kyrie Dominicale 4. Toni
Gloria Canit Pastor: Et in terra pax 
Credo in unum Deum

Hymnus: Veni Creator Spiritus

Magnificat 9 Toni

Psalmus sub Comminione: Jesus Christus, unser Heiland

Modus pleno Organo pedaliter: Benedicamus à 6 Voc

Played on the influential Frobenius organ. More information here.
Admission free – retiring collection.

Couperin: Pièces d’Orgue

François Couperin (1668-1733)
Pièces d’Orgue
Ed. Jon Baxendale
184 pages • ISMN: 979-0-2612-4441-1 • Hardback
Cantando Musikkforlag AS.  C4441

Piéces d'Orgue

François Couperin is one of those composers that is well-known to organists, although many of them will not know much about his non-organ compositions. He is also known to many non-organist music lovers, although many of them will not know much about his organ music. Like many organist-composers, Couperin’s organ works were published very early in his musical career, before his move into court circles and a compositional career mostly devoted to harpsichord, chamber and sacred vocal music. His father, Charles, was organist at the church of Saint-Gervais in Paris, just north of the Île de la Cité and the river Seine, where he had succeeded his brother Louis, the founder of the Couperin musical dynasty and a distinguished composer and performer. Charles died when François was about 11, specifying François as his successor. As Jon Baxendale discusses in his excellent Background Notes, this was the result of the practice of survivance, where an organist was able to specify his own successor, leading to such ‘family business’ situations. In the case of the Couperin family, the role remained in the family well into the 19th-century. François formally succeeded to the post when he reached the age of 18, the intervening years being taken up by increasingly intense training for his forthcoming role, during which he was paid a proportion of the stipend by the church authorities.

François Couperin was born 10 November 1668, and this 350th anniversary year is an apt moment for a new critical edition of his Pieces d’orgue. This collection of liturgical organ works dates from 1690, when he was 22. It consists of two Mass settings, with examples of the organ pieces that would have been played during the Latin Mass, most of them to be played in alternatim with the choir. One setting is intended for use in parish churches (à l’usage ordinaire des Paroisses Pour les Fêtes Solemnelles), the second for convents or abbey churches (Convents de Religieux et Religieuses). The latter setting is less complex than the first, and was written for a smaller organ, an indication that musical standards would have been higher in the parish churches, with a professional organist, than in the convents where the organ was played by one of the inmates.  Continue reading

Andrew Benson-Wilson plays Scheidt: Tabulatura Nova I

The Grosvenor Chapel
South Audley Street, Mayfair, London W1K 2PA
Tuesday 11 September, 1:10

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Andrew Benson-Wilson
plays
Samuel Scheidt (1587-1654)
Tabulatura Nova I

Andrew’s series of concerts featuring the North German pupils of Sweelinck, the ‘Orpheus of Amsterdam’, continues with two recitals of music by one of his most distinguished pupils, Samuel Scheidt. His influential three-volume Tabulatura Nova was published in 1624. It is one of the most important of all collections of organ music. Its 58 pieces are a comprehensive demonstration of compositional styles. This recital, played on the William Drake organ in the Grosvenor Chapel, features three large-scale pieces from Volume 1 of the Tabulatura Nova.

Cantio Sacra: Wie gleuben all an einen Gott
Fantasia: Io son ferito lasso 
Cantio Belgica: Ach du feiner Reuter

The next Scheidt recital will be on the famous Frobenius organ in the chapel of The Queen’s College Oxford, on Wednesday 24 October 2018, starting at 1:10. It will be of pieces from Volume 3 of the Tabulatura Nova, in the form of Lutheran Organ Vespers.

Both concerts are free admission, with retiring donations welcomed.

Gottlieb Muffat: Ricercatas & Canzonas

Gottlieb Muffat
32 Ricercatas & 19 Canzonas (Ed. Erich Benedikt)
Vol  1: Ricercatas I-XIX
52 pages • ISMN: 979-0-012-19074-5 • Softbound
Doblinger DM 1336

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Gottlieb Muffat is one of those unfortunate composers who is overshadowed by his father, in his case, Georg Muffat. The latter was one of the key instigators of an international keyboard style, infusing the Italian keyboard influence of Frescobaldi with musical influence from France. Gottlieb is generally known, if at all, through his connections with Handel, who ‘borrowed’ an extraordinary amount of his music, notably in the Ode to St. Cecilia’s Day, Samson, Joshua, and Judas Maccabeus. mostly from the six Suites in the 1736 Componimenti Musicali. 

This edition of Gottlieb Muffat’s 32 Ricercares and 19 Canzonas (Die 32 Ricercaten und 19 Canzonen) was first published by Doblinger in 2003 but has now been reissued in a smart new cover. Volume I (of three) includes the first 19 Ricercatas, plus an additional variant of Ricercata VII. The first three Ricercatas of this volume set are highly ornamented, in the manner of Georg Muffat, but there are few, if any, ornaments in the other Ricercatas. Muffat’s own table of ornaments from the Componimenti Musicali are included in this volume and are essential reading if you are to grasp the musical style of the period. As complex as they may seem (for example, there are 9 different types of trill), understanding them is essential in performance. Incidentally, knowledge of ornaments like this will also help to make sense of some of John Blow’s music, such was the international influence of the Frescobaldi/Froberger ‘school’. Having grasped the concept from the first three Ricercare, adding ornaments to the other pieces would be entirely appropriate.  Continue reading

Kerll: Complete Organ Works – Vol I

Johann Caspar Kerll (1627-1693)
Complete Organ Works
Vol I: Toccaten I–VIII (Ed. John O’Donnell)
34 pages • ISMN: 979-0-012-18121-7 • Softbound
Doblinger DM 1203

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Johann Caspar Kerll was born 1617 in Adorf in the far south of Saxony. Son of an organist, he was sent to Vienna in his early teens to study with the Court Kapellmeister, Giovanni Valentini. He was soon noticed in Court circles and when he was about 20 years-old was sent to Brussels by the Hapsburg governor of the Spanish Netherlands as organist for the new palace. Over the next 10 years, he combined his Brussels post with musical travels, including studying in Italy with Carissimi where he probably met Froberger and might have studied with him. He also spent time back in Vienna, in Dresden, and Moravia, eventually becoming Court Kapellmeister in Dresden in 1656. He returned to Vienna in 1674, where he might have been a teacher of Pachelbel, then deputy organist at the Stephensdom. He is one of those unfortunate composers many of whose works have been lost, including eleven operas. He is best known now for his keyboard music, and this first volume of his organ works, consisting of 8 Toccatas,  demonstrates why. Continue reading

François Couperin 350th Anniversary Concert

Christ’s Chapel of Alleyn’s College of God’s Gift in Dulwich
14 Gallery Rd, London SE21 7AD

Sunday 8 July 2018, 7.45 – 8.30

Guirlandes Alleluiatiques
François Couperin 350th Anniversary Concert

Andrew Benson-Wilson

Extracts from François Couperin’s Messe pour les Couvents, contrasted with the final cycle of Charles Tournemire’s L’Orgue Mystique, ending with the extraordinary
Fantaisie sur le Te Deum et Guirlandes Alleluiatiques.

Played on the 1760 England / 2009 William Drake organ.

Christ’s Chapel is part of Alleyn’s College of God’s Gift,
which is next to the Dulwich Art Gallery. Free street parking.
10 minutes walk from West Dulwich station.
Admission free – retiring collection.
Organ details here.

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César Franck: Trois Chorals

César Franck: Trois Chorals
Tournemire: transcriptions from Franck’s operas Hulda and Ghiselle
Yoann Tardivel, organ
HORTUS 147. 57:56

The Trois Chorals of César Franck rank amongst the highlights of both the French organ repertoire and the related instrument, the French 19th-century French symphonic organ, typified by the famed organ builder Cavaillé-Coll. They were one of the last works written just two months before he died, in 1890. Yoann Tardivel has won some impressive organ prizes. He takes an attractively reflected approach to his performance of the Three Chorales, avoided the look-at-me approach of some organists who see pieces like these as vehicles to demonstrate their own prowess, rather than demonstrating the music. Some of his speeds are a little slow by present-day standards, but this seems to add gravitas to his playing and is fine by me. He choice of registrations is excellent, and the recording is particularly well engineered with a solid bass.  Continue reading

Maximum Reger

Maximum Reger – The Last Giant
Fugue State Films. FSFDVD011. 6 DVD. c15h

Maximum Reger

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Johann Baptist Joseph Maximilian (Max) Reger (1873 -1916) is generally best known, if, perhaps, not always best liked, by organists. He is a bit of a love-or-hate composer, his extended and frequently dense organ pieces can be as hard to play as they, arguably, can be to listen to. As a breed, organists tend to concentrate on a composer’s organ music (with the possible exception of Bach) rather than exploring their music for other forces. Reger is one such, along with, for example, the contemporary, but longer-lived French composer Tournemire. If Reger is known at all to non-organists, it is probably through his chamber music. This extraordinary Fugue State Films box set of 6 DVDs, including a three-part documentary ‘The Last Giant’, aims to redress the balance of bringing Reger’s non-organ music and complex life story to organists, and the music of Reger in toto to non-organists who are not familiar with his music. For filmmaker and organist Will Fraser, of Fugue State Films, it is clearly a labour of love. Continue reading

Bach: Organ Chorales

JS Bach
Organ Chorales of the Leipzig manuscript/Schübler Chorales
Vincent van Laar
Aliud ACDBN 103-2. 2CDs 60’32+52’34

There are many recordings of these pieces, so a new one needs to be judged by what it can offer that others cannot. One question is about the nature of performing in recital and for a recording. It is generally accepted that performers can be much freer in their interpretation when playing live than in recording. An interpretational flourish in a recital is a take-it-or-leave event, which may well not repay repeated listening. So recordings tend to be ‘safer’ interpretations. Some recordings are, in effect, ‘live’, in that they are either taken from a live recital, or are performed as if live, without editing or re-takes. On this recording, Vincent van Laar generally plays in the ‘safe’ zone, but there are a few occasions when he steps into a more personal mode. And it is these moments that make this recording worth considering.  Continue reading

Music in a Cold Climate

Music in a Cold Climate: Sounds of Hansa Europe
In Echo, Gawain Glenton (director)
Delphian DCD34206. 67’32

In Echo is a new period instrument group, directed by the cornettist Gawain Glenton. Their core instrumental line-up of cornetto, violin, sackbut (doubling violin), bass viol and keyboards has been expanded for this their debut recording by an additional violin/viola, bass viol and, in one piece, a violone. Their programme retraces the route of musicians active in the Hanseatic League (Hansa) during its heyday in the 16th and 17th centuries. The league was a trading partnership encompassing several countries, from Tallinn to London via the Germanic free cities of Lübeck, Hamburg, and Bremen and similar ports in Holland, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. The CD programme notes mention that the represented composers “each looked beyond their own shores and toward a sense of shared European culture and understanding” – a timely reminder today of the importance of freedom of travel for musicians. For this recording, In Echo also commissioned a new composition to complement the early pieces – Andrew Keeling’s Northern Soul. Continue reading

The Orgelbüchlein Project

The Orgelbüchlein Project
A 21st-century completion of Bach’s Orgelbüchlein
Compiled and edited by William Whitehead
Volume 4: Christian Life and Conduct (Chorales 87–113)

152 pages  • ISMN 979-0-57701-498-2  • Softbound
Edition Peters EP73145

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The Orgelbüchlein Project is one of the most exciting and ambitious musical projects of recent years. Bach’s Orgelbüchlein was intended to be a set of 164 chorale preludes covering the whole liturgical year. It was started during Bach’s time in Weimar (1708-17) with a few additions after he arrived in Leipzig. In a tiny manuscript book, Bach wrote the titles of all 164 Lutheran chorales at the top of the pages, but only managed to complete settings of 46 of them. Most titles were allocated a single page, with some given more space. When he came to write out the chorale preludes, he occasionally ran out of space and packed in a few more bars at the bottom of the pages in the more compact (but old-fashioned) German tablature letter notation. The title page of the autograph copy (pictured below) notes Bach’s intention for the collection that “a beginning organist receives given instruction on performing a chorale in a multitude of ways while achieving mastery in the study of the pedal, since the chorales contained herein the pedal is treated entirely obbligato . . . that my fellow man may hone his skill.” The Orgelbüchlein Project is an international project, founded and curated by organist William Whitehead, to complete the Orgelbüchlein by commissioning composers to write settings for the 118 missing chorale preludes.

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Bach and Friends

Bach and Friends
Louis-Noël Bestion de Camboulas
Ambronay AMY048. 79’54

Music by Böhm, Buxtehude, J. C. F. Fischer, Georg Muffat, Pachelbel, and Scheidemann

Ambronay Editions continue their support for younger musicians with a first recording by the organist, harpsichordist and musical director Louis-Noël Bestion de Camboulas. I have previously reviewed him (here) as the director of the group Ensemble Les Surprises. This programme contrasts music for harpsichord and organ, genres quite often interchangeable in the Renaissance and Baroque periods. Many manuscripts of the period include pieces suitable for one or other instruments, or both. The absence of an independent pedal does not always imply performance on a stringed keyboard instrument. That said, the pieces on this recording are generally well suited to the chosen instrument, although the title of Bach and Friends is a little off-kilter. Few could be seriously considered as personal friends of Bach. But all influenced him in one way or another, even if, like Scheidemann, they died well before Bach was born. Continue reading

Renaissance: Groningen Lutherse Kerk

Renaissance: Groningen Lutherse Kerk
Tymen Jan Bronda, organ
Colophon LBE 2017. 76’59

Music by Frescobaldi, Scheidemann Buxtehude, Bõhm, Weckmann, and Bach.

The 2017 Groningen Schnitger Festival (reviewed here) focussed on the opening of the new organ in the Lutherse Kerk, a reconstruction of the Schnitger organ that was built for the church in 1699, with extensions to Schnitger’s plans in 1717. Schnitger gifted the organ to the Lutheran community in recognition of the time he and his German workforce spent in the church while working in Groningen on the now internationally famous organs in the Martinikerk and Aa-Kerk. Since 2001 the Lutherse Kerk reintroduced the tradition of Bach cantatas into the services, leading to the foundation of the period instrument Luthers Bach Ensemble and plans for an organ suitable for use with Bach cantatas. The Groningen born but Swiss-based organ builder Bernhardt Edskes was commissioned to build the new organ, based on the 1717 incarnation of the original Schnitger organ. This CD by church organist Tymen Jan Bronda is the first to be made of the new Schnitger organ.  Continue reading

Melchior Schildt

Melchior Schildt (1592-1667)
Complete Organ Works  (Ed. Klaus Beckmann)
128 pages  • ISMN: 979-0-001-13431-6 • Softbound
Edition Schott 
ED 9585

2017 is the anniversary of Melchior Schildt’s death, so it is an appropriate time to look at his, sadly, very limited, surviving organ music. He was born in 1592 in Hanover to a family of musicians stretching back more than 125 years. He studied with Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck from 1609 (probably until 1612). In 1626 he was appointed court organist to the Danish king, and in 1629 returned to Hannover to replace his father as organist at the Marktkirche, where he stayed until his death.

He seems to have been ‘a bit of a character’, with several records of intemperate behaviour, one being a violent attack on the organ builder Fritzsche. Although his second marriage provided him with financial security, the relationship was troubled to the extent that Schildt’s will required their son to be removed from his mother’s care. His troubled relationship with the music profession can be seen in his further instructions for his son, forbidding him to learn any musical instrument of any kind “because those who do are held back in their university studies, and also adopt a wild and dissolute life”. Continue reading

Melchior Schildt (d1667)

Andrew Benson-Wilson
plays the complete surviving organ works of
Melchior Schildt (1592-1667)

The Queen’s College Chapel, Oxford
Wednesday 29 November, 1:10

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Melchior Schildt (1592-1667) was a pupil of Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck. After a spell as court organist to the King of Denmark in Copenhagen, he succeeded his father as organist of the Hanover Marktkirche, where he remained. This recital includes his Magnificat Primi Modi, and a beautiful intabultation on the funeral motet Herzlich lieb hab’ ich dich.

Melchior Schildt came from a family of Hanover musicians. After spending time in Wolfenbüttel and Copenhagen, he returned to Hanover, succeeding his father as organist of the Marktkirche where he remained until his death. He seems to have been quite a character. While in Wolfenbüttel, he attacked the organ builder Gottfried Fritzsche in the organ loft, nearly strangling him before Fritzsche grabbed one of his heftier organ-building tools to fend him off. The relationship with his second wife was strained, to the extent that, on his death, he arranged for his son to be removed from his mother’s care and given to a guardian. Perhaps in reflection of his own experiences, he further stipulated that his son must not learn any musical instrument for fear that he would adopt a ‘wild and dissolute’ life. He was said to have performed in a dramatic style, playing in such a way as to ‘make listeners ‘laugh or weep’.

Information on the Frobenius organ here.
Admission free – retiring collection. 

Organ Reframed: Six New Works

Organ Reframed: Six New Works
London Contemporary Orchestra, James McVinnie

Union Chapel, Islington. 13 October 2017

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Organ recitals, at least of the traditional English sort, tend to attract relatively small, rather aged, and predominantly male audiences. They usually feature music written between the time of Bach and the early 20th century. Occasionally forays into more contemporary (or contemporary sounding) music – even Messiaen, most of whose organ music was composed more than 70 years ago, can frighten off audiences. But the weekend Organ Reframed festival at the spectacular Union Chapel in Islington demonstrated that both organ and contemporary music can have a huge following, if presented in an imaginative way. Continue reading