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Prague: L'age d'or baroque / Kohout

Seger / Fischer / Muffat / Kopriva / Kohout
Release Date: 10/08/2013 
Label:  Hortus   Catalog #: 953   Spars Code: DDD 
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

I played this CD soon after reviewing a 3-CD Teldec reissue of Herbert Tachezi playing music of much the same period on Austrian organs roughly contemporary with the Mundt instrument employed here (2564 69455-8). Not having heard Pavel Kohout before, I expected the new Hortus recording to be somewhat overshadowed by that reissue, but such was not the case. The cover is rather drab and uninviting by comparison with the attractive still life on the front of the Teldec, but this is a most enjoyable recording on a most appropriate instrument. It’s just right for a Sunday afternoon, when I listened to it.

The booklet offers detailed and scholarly notes by Kohout himself on the composers and the music, in French, English and Czech.
Read more I am indebted to these for information on Seger and Kop?iva, whom I had not encountered before, and on Gottlieb Muffat, who had barely registered on my radar by comparison with his much better-known father Georg. Without claiming him as an undiscovered genius, I thought the one work by Kop?iva which concludes the CD (track 11) well worth hearing. He died of tuberculosis at the age of 29, so he might well have gone on to achieve greater things.

One of Kohout’s avowed objectives is to make the music of Josef Seger better known. He certainly achieved that as far as I was concerned and the CD is well worthwhile for that reason alone. I’d certainly now like to hear more of his music, though there don’t seem to be too many opportunities for that: a Prelude in c minor on a CD of Christmas Music at the Court of Dresden (Carus 83.169) is all that I have been able to find. Perhaps Pavel Kohout and Hortus could be persuaded to oblige with a second CD. As for Kop?iva, I can find only one other work, a Mass in D, in a recital which also includes the same Fugue on DEBEFE as on the Hortus CD, and music by his father Václav Jan and his brother Jan Jáchym (SU39082, 4 CDs, also available as a download from eMusic).

The notes on the Mundt organ, constructed in 1673 and virtually intact in its original state are also extremely informative; non-specialists may balk at such information as “the characteristic sound of the instrument is defined by its labial pipes topped by a six rank mixture stop ...” though a quick self-taught crash course from the article on organ in any edition of the Oxford Companion to Music would help.

The complete specification shows what a hefty sound the instrument is capable of making, with a 16’ manual stop and two 16’pedal stops – the commissioners in the 1670s were adamant that they wanted a loud organ and, indeed, the overall sound is less bright, more beefy than that of the Austrian instruments on the Teldec set. Thankfully, Kohout is sparing in his employment of these 16’ stops, limiting their use to the ‘bigger’ pieces, such as the opening Prelude and Fugue and the closing Fugue – all too often organists get carried away with too much 16’ tone in baroque music.

Throughout the recital Kohout’s playing is idiomatic, instructive and entertaining. As is apparent from the booklet, he varies his chosen registration to suit the needs of each piece – very light for the Seger Fantasia and Fugue (track 2) much heavier for the preceding Prelude and Fugue (tr. 1) and more varied, though not heavy in the Fischer Aria in which he achieves a number of interesting aural effects with the great variety of solo stops at his disposal (tr.3). For the Kerll Passacaglia (tr.6) he employs just one 8’ and one 4’ stop to excellent effect. The use of the Cymbelstern stop in the Kerll Canzona (tr.5) is particularly effective.

This Kerll Canzona is the one piece which also occurs on the Tachezi recital. The first, fugue section is lively enough to dispel any notions to which the d minor key may give rise, though the piece later takes on a slightly darker hue. Both performers offer lively performances of the piece; Tachezi is slightly more nimble, but I much prefer the sound of the Prague organ to that of Tachezi’s Klosterneuburg Festorgel, then in its unrestored state.

The Hortus recording is close but not unduly so – there is a degree of ambience without too much resonance. It’s at least as good as Teldec’s 1980/1 DDD recordings and better than the 1968 ADD sound on parts of their 3-CD set, good as that is for its age.

The booklet is excellent – not far off the kind of thing one expects from Hyperion: like them, it’s hard to get it back in the case – with external and internal illustrations of the organ. For all the detail about the organ, I couldn’t find details of the temperament or pitch of the instrument. The Czech text appears to be the original; the English translation, from which the French version was made, is idiomatic.

This Hortus CD wouldn’t be my first recommendation for a recording of baroque organ music: you might prefer to go for the Teldec recital first – 3 CDs for rather less than this single disc – or one of the three Apex CDs which contain the same music, but those who already have some of the organ works of this period in their collection could do much worse than to acquire the new CD: it shows how far Czech performances of baroque music have come since the 1960s Supraphon LP of Corelli which was my introduction to his Opus 6 Concertos.

Brian Wilson, MusicWeb International Read less

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