Now here’s a piece of organ trivia for you. Where is the world’s largest all mechanical-action organ? The answer - and I’m ashamed to confess I didn’t know either - is, believe it or not, the Trinitatiskirche in Liepaja, Latvia. It is only one of the remarkable, and with one notable exception, more or less completely unknown organs featured on the present release.
I like the format of this, and its partner releases from MDG, very much. This CD is of particular interest because of the awakening of the West to the organ treasures of the East, hidden for so long behind the Iron Curtain. The organs featured here date from between 1700 (the organ at Ugale,Read more built by one Cornelius Rhaneus) and 1904, and can be roughly divided into those displaying typical German characteristics and others which display, in one way or another, something altogether more out of the ordinary. In the former category are the Ladegast at Valmiera, or, in its own way, the famous Walcker in the Riga Dom. Listen out also for the evocative free-reed Vox Humana on the 1865 Herrmann organ at Zalenieki. The 1835 Tiedermann organ at Ventspils is in the latter category. With its two manuals and five stop independent pedal, it contains just one reed. The Emil Martin organ of 1904 in the Cathedral of Liepaja contains both French reeds and an 8’ Harmonic Flute in an otherwise typically German scheme for the period. This perhaps reflects the influence of E.F. Walcker who, following the erection of the Riga organ remained highly active in the region.
Assuming you are aware of the famous Riga Dom organ - which at 127 stops must surely be the second largest all mechanical organ in the world? - the real curiosity here is the mammoth 131-stop organ in Liepaja. Based on a 1779 organ of Contius, with later enlargements by Carl and Carl Alexander Herrmann , as well as by Barmin Grüneberg in 1885, it is now an astonishing mixture of organ building styles; an ”encyclopedia of organ building of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries” as Martin Rost writes in the booklet. Only the Hauptwerk makes use of a Barker lever and the organ includes both (mechanical) cone and slider chests.
Rost cleverly puts the instrument through its paces, choosing music from the different periods of its construction to show it off. His programming in general is inventive, and his playing never less than good. His extensive searching for unknown, often Latvian, repertoire is admirable, even if very little of it interested me beyond its ability to demonstrate the instruments in question. The very conservative
Konzertsatz, for example, of the Mazsalacas-born Adams Ore, this despite his extensive travelling, is somewhat typical. The concluding nugget of Liszt on the other hand, written for the opening of the Riga organ, is wonderful, showing off one of the great organs of the 19
The booklet is packed with colour photos and an excellent overview of both Latvian organ history, and the instruments and music heard. It is written by the performer himself.