Another excellent recording in this excellent series.
Christopher Herrick and Hyperion have been casting their net far and wide for this series of Organ Fireworks, which has now reached its 24th year and its twelfth volume. A consistent feature has been the choice of organs able to give forth resplendently, and the tailoring of the programme to suit the capabilities of the chosen organ.
Thus Volume X, recorded on a “veritable beast of an organ”, the 96-stop, 6,551-pipe 2002 Letourneau organ of the Winspear Centre, Edmonton, Canada, offers as its main work Liszt’s Fantasia on Ad nos, ad salutarem undam. Volume XI is performed on the Lay Family Concert Organ in Dallas, Texas, another very large instrument onRead more which Herrick plays Copland, the “French Americana of Langlais and Widor ... [and] a selection of jazz-infused works which allow both player and instrument to develop a whole new aspect of the organ repertoire.” (All quotations from Hyperion’s publicity material).
Now he turns his attention to the Haderslev Cathedral organ and to repertoire deemed suitable for it. Recorded in Buxtehude’s tercentenary year and on a Danish organ, it is appropriate that the recital should open with two of Buxtehude’s own pieces and that Petr Eben’s musical tribute to him should be included, though it interrupts the otherwise roughly chronological order of the works on the CD. While Buxtehude’s connection with the other composers here may not at first seem clear, the notes in the booklet make the link, via Bach, Liszt and Reger, to Karg-Elert whose death marked “the end of a great chapter in the history of German organ music ... that began with Buxtehude and the other north German masters who inspired Bach.”
How appropriate, too, that we should have Buxtehude performed on the cathedral organ of a town which was once in Germany and now is in Denmark. Buxtehude, despite his German surname, was born and possibly died in Denmark but worked in Hamburg. The Hyperion notes leave the question of his true nationality open.
The first two pieces, by Buxtehude, feature on a 3-CD set of the organ music of Buxtehude and his contemporaries, played on historic Danish, Dutch and North German organs by Kei Koito, which I am currently also reviewing (Claves 50-2704/06) Koito gives a fine account of BuxWV137 on the organ of St Jacobi, Hamburg, and an equally fine account of BuxWV148 on the organ of the Martinikerk, Groningen, both of which would appear to have greater claims to be historically more appropriate to the music of Buxtehude. Herrick’s Haderslev organ is of no great antiquity, having been built originally in 1863 by Furtwängler & Sons, rebuilt in 1932 by Marcussen & Søn, and updated in 1977.
When one takes into account the various rebuilds and restorations that the two ‘historic’ organs have received, however, they are not particularly better suited to Buxtehude than Herrick’s Danish organ. The Hamburg organ has emerged from its latest rebuild at rather too high a pitch for baroque music. Good as the Koito performances are, Herrick’s are just that little bit more special; she is light-fingered, he lighter still. His registration is also a touch lighter and his slightly faster tempo benefits the music. Where the ‘fireworks’ may be said to explode, at the end of BuxWV137 and at the close of the fugue of BuxWV148, both organists give it their all.
Despite the dedication of the Eben work and its easily-recognised quotation of the first Buxtehude piece here, BuxWV137, the comparative angularity of this piece makes for an odd transition from Buxtehude and to the following piece by Gade. To quote the excellent notes, by Relf Clark, Buxtehude “would almost certainly have been bewildered” by it. So would Gade. No doubt Buxtehude would have appreciated “the highly inventive use it makes of his own material”. It is an attractive piece, but I am not convinced that this was the right place to put it – it’s the most ‘advanced’ work on the CD, more modern in feeling even than the Karg-Elert piece of four years later.
The Gade piece is an attractive example of the music of this rather neglected contemporary of Mendelssohn. Neither it nor the Rheinberger is especially memorable but neither outstays its welcome. Vierne’s much better-known Carillon de Westminster is dedicated to the organ-builder Willis but it and the Dupré sound equally well on the Haderslev organ. Herrick’s performances of these French pieces are as good as any you are likely to encounter on any organ. The end of the Carillon puts the organ and recording – and one’s speakers – firmly to the test. All come out with flying colours.
The arrangement of Brahms’s Academic Festival Overture is interesting, and Herrick’s performance would do credit to any conductor, but I am not sure that I shall want to hear it too often. Perhaps it would have been better to have included something by Max Reger, whom the notes identify as one of the links in the chain from Buxtehude to Karg-Elert.
The Karg-Elert Passacaglia and Fugue, another Willis dedication, provides the real fireworks of this recital – a splendidly large-boned piece in the late-romantic style with which to round off an excellent CD. Its quotation of the B.A.C.H. theme reminds us of the centrality of the one North German composer conspicuous by his absence here, whose presence would probably have detracted from the other works by stealing the show.
Christopher Herrick really is an organist for all seasons, equally at home with Daquin’s Noëls, his recording of which I recently recommended (CDH55319 – see review) and Buxtehude here and with the Dupré and Karg-Elert at the other end of the chronological scale. My usual practice is first to listen to every CD once without trying to reach for pen and paper but the temptation to make one or two notes, even at this stage, is usually irresistible. I listened to this recording all the way through without once wanting to write a single critical word – I just wanted to play the whole thing through again.
The recording is excellent, wide-ranging and with a good sense of the ambience of Haderslev Cathedral, which is never allowed to swamp the recording. The excellent notes include a detailed history and specification of the organ, though not of the registration employed for each piece.
The attractiveness of this recording is completed by the cover illustration of Fireworks at Fontainebleau (1857). Like Naxos, Hyperion seem to have an inexhaustible supply of appropriate cover illustrations.
I came very close to nominating this CD as a Recording of the Month. Really the only thing which prevented me was the fact that I thought that the Brahms transcription took up space which could have been better allocated. That is probably unfair, since, with a generous playing time of 77 minutes, even programming out the Brahms leaves a 66-minute recording.
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