FELIX MENDELSSOHN-BARTHOLDY & JOHANNES BRAHMS
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Code: CYBELE SACD 050502
|FELIX MEDELSSOHN-BARTHOLDY (1809 – 1847) – SIX SONATAS FOR ORGAN, OP. 65
Sonata in F minor, Op. 65 No. 1; Sonata in C minor, Op. 65 No. 2
Sonata in A major, Op. 65 No. 3; Sonata in B flat major, Op. 65 No. 4
Sonata in D major, Op. 65 No. 5; Sonata in D minor, Op. 65 No. 6
JOHANNES BRAHMS (1833 – 1897) – ORGAN WORKS
Fugue in A flat major, WoO 8
Eleven Chorale Preludes, Op. 122
The organ heard on this recording dates from 1900 and was manufactured by the Ludwigsburg-based company E. F. Walcker. It is recognised as a historical monument due to it being one of the few surviving instruments with a pneumatic tracker action. Its differentiated colours blend remarkably well, as was required at the time. In relation to these chorale preludes by Johannes Brahms, the organ is a near contemporary; the six Mendelssohn organ sonatas were finished 55 years before its construction, but in their utopic potential herald the arrival of such an instrument.
On 10 April 1845, Mendelssohn wrote to his publisher Breitkopf und Härtel: “I have now completed the work for organ which I mentioned at the beginning of winter. It has grown, however, much larger than I had originally imagined. That is to say that there are six sonatas in which I have sought to express my way of treating the organ and of conceiving for it. Therefore, I would be pleased were they to be published as one work...”.
This work influenced the evolution of organ-building, an arc which stretches back to Bach’s suggestions and extends to the so-called “future music” of Liszt. Not surprisingly, it is a multifaceted piece. From his letters, it is known that Mendelssohn loved baroque organs. In his lifetime, however, several modifications had been introduced. Among them was equal-tempered tuning and its consequences for the mixture stops. What today is known as a “romantic” organ was not yet a reality. In fact, such organs started to be built in response to the variety of these sonatas and as such, a rarity occurred: the repertoire preceded, and helped dictate the design of, the instrument. Until then the reverse held true: the organ of the era spurred the compositions that suited it best. The appreciation that César Franck had for Mendelssohn is also well known and this preference is obvious in his own organ oeuvre. The Walcker family, which later built this instrument in Essen-Werden, were close friends and one-time apprentices of Cavaillé-Coll, César Franck’s organ-builder.
The Walcker organ - built in 1900 - has a pneumatic tracker action and a great variety of tonal colors. While not as versatile as the organs of the French romantic school, it has a number of modifications over the basic baroque organ of Bach’s day. While Mendelssohn loved baroque organs, he wrote his six organ sonatas in a more advanced style that perfectly fits this organ design. Mendelssohn was the first to unite sonata form with the Protestant chorale in his organ sonatas.
He saw the entire cycle as one cohesive work, with the individual sonatas representing the different movements of one massive sonata. Although he composed them in a different order, he arranged the six works of the cycle with a key sequence of f-c-A-B flat-D-d (with the lower case denoting the minor keys and the caps the major).
The first sonata is a the longest of all at over 15 minutes. It has four movements on a large scale, blending the choral with sonata movement structure. The second sonata has no chorale and starts with two slow movements. It’s primary theme is a fugue. The third and fourth sonatas are in major keys and highly contrasted with one another. The fourth takes the form of a four-movement classical piano sonata. The fifth is the shortest of the six and again begins with two slow movements and a chorale. The final sonata uses a Luther chorale “Our Father who are in in heaven” for an overall theme and variations structure.
Brahms’ Fugue is quite chromatic and was a strong influence on Arnold Schoenberg. The 11 Chorale Preludes was the only work Brahms left behind upon his death. They used variations on lieder and hymn melodies from his childhood, and in fact he had played some of them on the piano for his friends the night before his death. The acoustics of the church are well-preserved via the full 5.1-channel surround reproduction. Although all solo instruments benefit from surround sound reproduction, the pipe organ benefits more than any other, since the acoustics of its venue are so much a part of the musical experience. Audiophile organ buffs will definitely want to add this expertly performed, recorded and notated album to their collection.
- John Sunier