ORGAN MUSIC FOR CHRISTMAS
NOËL NOUVELET [E/M]
Schott ED22469 £7.99
PRELUDE AND TOCCATA ON ‘ADESTE FIDELES’ [M/D]
CHORALE PRELUDE ON ‘LO, HOW A ROSE E’ER BLOOMING’ [E/M]
Banks Music Publications 14085 £3.50
SECHS WEIHNACHTSFANTASIEN (Six Christmas Fantasias) [M]
Margaretha Christina de Jong
Hakim’s Noël nouvelet presents the tune three times, embellished within a series of semiquavers but clearly audible. The melodic line moves from right hand to left for the second, more chromatic ‘variation’ and finally back to the right again. Accompanied by off-beat pedal quavers, like a light drum beat, it has the feeling of a medieval dance – relaxed and happy, not least in the smiling four-bar coda.
Robin Erskine’s French-toccata-style ‘O come, all ye faithful’ would be ideal for the end of a midnight service when a short voluntary is all that is wanted (by organist and congregation). This festive piece will send congregations home full of Christmas cheer. As so often with this sort of toccata, the pedal part is considerably easier than the manuals.
Antony Baldwin sets out his ‘Lo, how a rose’ or ‘A great and mighty wonder’ tune just once through, in stately semibreves and minims. The crotchet-based countermelody, like the carol tune, weaves patterns of seconds and thirds, with the feel of a gentle improvisation. It would make an effective, quiet mood-setter before a Christmas service.
The tunes on which Margaretha de Jong bases five of her Christmas fantasias are likely to be recognized in the English-speaking world. Quem pastores starts with a shepherd’s pipe but builds to a grand climax, perhaps as the shepherds realize the magnitude of what they are witnessing. Stille Nacht introduces a contrasting central section after which both themes are combined. The editor, Albert Clement, points out examples of musical and numerical symbolism, such as the change at bar 33 of Vom Himmel hoch, 33 traditionally representing the earthly life of Christ. Es ist ein Ros is canonic, representing the Word of God. In dulci jubilo starts predictably (and, as so often) as a canon before launching into a wild, jazzy finale. This volume is full of unexpected pleasures.
For Christmas, see also the Pastorale Sonatas included in the Twelve Sonatas by Fux reviewed below.
EASY ORGAN MUSIC
PARI INTERVALLO [E/M]
Universal Edition UE 36995 £7.99
This is a welcome standalone publication of this miniature masterpiece by Pärt, previously only available in an anthology. Dating from 1976, it is among the finest works from the years immediately after Pärt’s emergence from artistic internal exile. The simplicity of the writing and the pure logic of the underlying compositional mechanism contribute to one of the most haunting and affecting organ works of the latter part of the 20th century. Essential, truthful, powerful music.
12 SONATAS [E/M]
Johann Joseph Fux
Doblinger (Universal Edition) DM1447 £19.50
Johann Joseph Fux (1660–1741) was a major composer at the imperial Viennese court between Froberger and Gottlieb Muffat, but keyboard compositions form only a small part of his surviving works. Seven of his many trio sonatas were arranged by contemporaries (ed. Schlee, UE16.608), and Benedikt has arranged a further 12 for this volume, seven of which have been transposed. Pedals are required in the two multi-movement Pastorale Sonatas (that contain far more dynamic indications), and are optional in the others, which have from one to up to five contrasting movements. There are fewer fugal movements than expected but no.10 contains two quite extensive examples.
The volume is clearly printed and contains a brief introduction. The writing is in three voices only, and in a few places does not lie too happily beneath the hands, needing stretches of a tenth; but generally these are interesting additions to a well-established tradition, with the Pastorale Sonatas particularly effective at Christmas services.
ORGAN MUSIC FROM SCANDINAVIA
Wilhelm Hansen WH 32208 £17.95
What a thrill to find this collection amongst the recent Nordic releases! Per Nørgård (b.1932), one of the most important European composers of the second part of the 20th century and beyond, has written three substantial works for organ of which Canon (1971) has been acclaimed a masterpiece. This new collection brings together 17 preludes or chorale-based compositions spanning five decades of the Dane’s output, each one beautiful, crystalline and perfect. Works like the haunting Frostsalme-musik (on his own hymn tune) would provide a perfect introduction to Nørgård’s infinity series. The collection is beautifully produced, though the lack of translated text is a shame: nevertheless an important, serious release, and an excellent introduction to this great composer.
VARIAZIONI PER ORGANO [M]
Novello 165352 £9.95
Here is another excellent work from prolific Finnish composer Aulis Sallinen (b.1935). Written in 2014 and lasting around nine minutes, this is a substantial set of allusive rather than direct variations, building from gentle, hesitant opening gestures to a strong and vital finale. A fine recital work that would reward imaginative registration and a generous acoustic.
MY DOVE [D]
Wilhelm Hansen 31569 £16.95
The musical activities of Danish composer Anders Koppel (b. 1947) are many and varied: son of a fine composer and pianist, he founded a successful rock band, Savage Rose, in 1967; he has written much film and ballet music, and continues to be influenced by jazz, folk and world music. My Dove, despite being only his second organ work, is fluent and idiomatic, an extended love song inspired by the Song of Solomon. Tender and gentle at the start and finish, with bitter-sweet harmonies, the music is animated and urgent in the central section, characterized by rapid rising figures against driving rhythms.
REUNION CONFIRMED: Passacaglia for Organ [M/D]
Wilhelm Hansen 31855 £13.95
Employing classical forms was central to Finnish composer Jouni Kaipainen (1956–2015), yet his style was far more romantic. This work from 2004 lasts about five minutes and has an extended and chromatic passacaglia theme: variations become dense quite quickly, with thick chords and counterpoint coexisting. After the work’s dramatic apex (the performer will need to grade dynamics carefully, as few are marked), the work subsides to a peaceful final statement.
TRIO SUPER: WER GOTT VERTRAUT [D]
TRIO TRANSCENDENTALE [D]
Wilhelm Hansen 32138 £9.95 & 31157 £13.95
Danish composer Poul Ruders (b. 1949) writes music that is at times explosive and eruptive, at others introvert and enigmatic. He has written three works for organ, Requiem from 1968 and these two from 2009 and 2015 respectively. Trio Transcendentale, a test piece for the Carl Nielsen Organ Competition, is virtuosic and rhythmically ferocious, with streams of semiquavers interrupted by rests and additive rhythms. Wer Gott vertraut, commissioned by The Queen’s College, Oxford and part of the Orgelbüchlein Project, actually has a four-part texture and is more forgiving, though still requires a steady hand and mind. Both are fine works that would repay careful study.
Reviews in this and previous CMQs have referred to the Orgelbüchlein Project. J.S. Bach intended his Orgelbüchlein (‘Little Organ Book’) to comprise 164 chorale preludes for the whole church year, but only completed 46 of them. He left blank pages for the 118 missing pieces, ‘ghostly gaps with only the title penned by Bach. Each of these gaps will be filled by a new composition based on Bach’s intended melody. The new pieces, written by the most interesting composers at work today, will survey a range of modern styles.’ The project is nearly complete – details are at www.orgelbuechlein.co.uk
MORE ORGAN VOLUNTARIES
FRISCH AUF, MEIN’ SEEL’, VERZAGE NICHT: Tiento For Organ [M/D]
Union Musical Ediciones UME28424 £11.00
This work by the Spanish composer Benet Casablancas (b.1956) was commissioned for the Orgelbüchlein Project in 2012. The subtitle ‘Tiento’ is a little misleading, as, though there are strong underlying contrapuntal elements, the style of the music is sinuous and free and, unlike the historical model, requires at least two manuals and a pedalboard of good compass. The music is tonal, disguised by heavy chromaticism, and rhythmically complex – a fascinating addition to the series.
SIX ÉTUDES CARACTÉRISTIQUES [E–D]
TWO CONTRAPUNTAL ORGANWORKS
Edition Dohr (Universal Edition) 14206 £22.95 and 14205 £12.95
Schmitt was cathedral organist at Trier before becoming organist at Saint-Sulpice and Saint-Germain-des-Prés in Paris. The Études were originally an 1881 appendix to an organ method that Schmitt wrote and have been published before. They range from a one-manual-only Communion and (with optional pedals) Offertoire to an extrovert Grand Coeur – Sortie, by way of an easier and less interesting Sortie and solo movements for Hautbois and Trompette. The two contrapuntal pieces are Prélude fugue – Sortie from around 1857 and Fantaisie fugué Op.48 and are both well worth playing, even if some organists will prefer to thin the doubled notes in some of the more thickly-textured passages. Four dense A4 pages of text at the end of each volume about the music are, alas, in German only.
TWELVE MARCHES [M/D]
John Philip Sousa
arr. Michael Casey
Trumph T-071002 Kr.256.00
The Gladiator, Liberty Bell (The Monty Python tune), Stars and Stripes Forever, El Capitan – they are all here along with eight others. The arrangements are idiomatic and feel like real organ music. They are also more musically rewarding than others, as the arranger, who remembers playing the original versions in bands in his youth, has gone back to autographs or original printed scores rather than using the published piano editions. The 87-page score (plus notes on each piece) is wiro-bound but printed on heavy paper with sturdy card covers.
SUITE IN THE ANCIENT STYLE [M] and PRELUDE AND FUGUE IN G MINOR [D]
Fitzjohn Music Publications £10.00
Charles Wood’s star appears to be in the ascendant, judging by publications and reissues of his choral and organ music. Both pieces here are worth rediscovering. The Suite in the Ancient Style has titles as if from a Bach French suite, although sometimes pushing the harmonic language into the 19th century. I particularly liked the way the second part of the Gigue starts with an inversion of the opening material. The Prelude and Fugue, published seven years after his death, is a serious and sombre work, with a fugue subject in 5/4 and a major ending that feels only a temporary respite from the pervasive G minor. It is more the centre piece of a recital programme than a concluding voluntary – but well worth learning.