Notes and Editorial Reviews
This is a hybrid Super Audio CD playable on both regular and Super Audio CD players.
Chorale Prelude and Fugue on “O traurigkeit, O Herzeleide.”
Preludes and Fugues: in g; in a. Fugue in a?.
11 Chorale Preludes
Anne Horsch (org)
cpo 777 384 (Hybrid multichannel SACD: 68:22)
That Brahms’s complete
for solo organ fits comfortably onto a single CD might be taken to suggest that the composer didn’t put much stock in the medium. But while few in numbers, it would be a mistake to conclude that these works are not important in Brahms’s canon. Of the five entries listed in the headnote, all but one—the
11 Chorale Preludes
—were written before the composer turned 25, and during the period in which his relationship with Robert and Clara Schumann had begun to take on a familial cast. But Brahms needed little encouragement from either of them to throw himself into the study of early sacred music; canon, fugue, and the contrapuntal practices of the great Renaissance Flemish masters fascinated him and became a lifelong passion. Without this grounding,
A German Requiem
and many of Brahms’s other works could never have come to be.
Of these four early works, three of them—the Prelude and Fugue in A Minor, the Fugue in G Minor, and the extremely complex Fugue in A? Minor—are essentially study pieces or exercises in advanced counterpoint that were written between 1853 and 1856, the year of Robert Schumann’s death. The grand
Chorale Prelude on “O traurigkeit, O Herzeleide”
came two years later in 1858, possibly as a commemorative for his departed friend.
Almost 40 years would elapse before Brahms turned to the organ one last time to compose the
11 Chorale Preludes
. They were written between May and June 1896, during the composer’s summer stay in Ischl. The proximity of their composition to the death of Clara Schumann, who died on May 20th of that year, is not coincidental. But the work is not just a
Requiescat in pace
for the woman Brahms devoted so much of his love and life to, but for himself. Diagnosed with cancer—either of the pancreas or the liver, depending on which source you read—Brahms knew his own days were numbered. And in fact, the final chorale prelude in the set, “O Welt ich muss dich lassen,” was the last piece he would write.
Anne Horsch plays the Maerz organ at Munich’s Catholic Church of St. Rupert. The booklet note provides a full list of the organ’s stops, but otherwise gives no background on the history of the instrument. For that I Googled the organ and learned that it was originally built for the royal Odeon in Munich, where it remained until 1907, and that it is one of the few surviving concert organs of the time. Restoration work was undertaken in 1997.
Horsch plays these mostly intimate, introspective, contemplative works with a great deal of respect and feeling for their resigned certitude in faith. And the SACD recording bathes the organ in a warm acoustic that is not overly bright or excessively reverberant. If you are looking for an organ disc that will unnerve your neighbors, this isn’t it. In the main, these are quiet, reflective pieces that may suggest to some listeners the music one hears in a funeral parlor.
The only other recording of these works I’m familiar with is a no-longer-listed Dabringhaus und Grimm CD with Rudolf Innig playing the Klais organ at the Church of St. Dionysius in Rheine, Germany. I’m no organ expert, but from the stops listed, it appears to be a slightly more modest instrument than Horsch’s Maerz organ. The Klais is well suited to the nature of these pieces, but I prefer the somewhat more robust sound of the Maerz on this new release. Performance-wise, it’s a toss-up; but the comparison is academic anyway, since the Innig recording appears to be out of print. There are other available recordings, of course; though I haven’t heard it, I would expect Kevin Bowyer’s on Nimbus to be an equally fine choice. But given that this is music even Brahms-lovers are not going to be inclined to listen to often, the new cpo disc with Anne Horsch can be recommended, especially since, to the best of my knowledge, it’s the only one currently available on SACD.
FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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