Notes and Editorial Reviews
Concerto for Organ, Boys’ Choir, and Orchestra
Toccata, Adagio, and Fugue in f
Symphonic Variations on a French Children’s Song
Iveta Apkalna (org);
Tölz Boys’ Ch
OEHMS 411 (73:02)
It was a whim that led me to request this CD for review. I had never even heard of Walter Braunfels, after all. Moments after beginning to play it, however, I knew that my instincts were good, because this music is rather special, and deserves to be known by a broader audience. Braunfels was born in Frankfurt am Main in 1882. Annotator Susanne Bruse divides his life’s work into three periods, and these three works represent each one of those periods. His father was a Jew who converted to Protestantism before Braunfels was born, and Braunfels in turn converted to Catholicism after World War I because he “was grateful to have escaped the inferno.” Nevertheless, his works were banned by the Nazis in 1933, and he was silenced for nearly a decade, and relieved of his teaching duties as well.
, the last work on this CD, is the earliest one, completed in 1909 when Braunfels was 26. This is a sophisticated yet ebullient and good-natured work that sounds, perhaps, like Hindemith at his most optimistic and appealing, with suggestions of Richard Strauss for good measure. Braunfels builds his musical edifice on varied fragments of the original folk song. The textures are diverse but usually on the lush side. There is humor, too; at one point the janissary music from Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” threatens to sidetrack the proceedings. At a bit over 16 minutes, the
don’t outstay their welcome, yet the music has enough weight to feel consequential.
The Concerto was completed in 1928, the year that it was premiered in the Leipzig Gewandhaus by organist Günther Ramin, with Furtwängler conducting. This is even more impressive, as it inhabits a similar world as Poulenc’s Concerto for Organ, Strings, and Timpani. First, there is an extended Fantasy, notable for its drama and seriousness. The organ, aided by the orchestra, engages in a heroic struggle. The second movement opens quietly with a brief organ prelude, followed by a touchingly melodic section for divided strings. Eventually, the organ joins in, and the brass intensify the mood. After a pause, the boys’ choir enters gently, to cap the movement with a beautiful chorale. After a mysterious organ interlude, the last movement arrives with a nervous fugue, initiated by the violins, and punctuated at intervals by the organ. This is built up at length, and then there is another capstone chorale, which closes the work thrillingly.
The large Toccata, Adagio, and Fugue for organ was composed during Braunfels’s years of silence. Begun in 1933, it was not performed until 1946. Again, the Toccata impresses one with its drama and intensity. The
begins seraphically, but is not saccharine; it has known human pain. In time, its texture thickens impressively. The work ends with an imposing fugue. In this work, conductor Albrecht moves to the organ, but his instrument is not as clear-sounding as the one that the excellent Iveta Apkalna uses in the concerto. I found this work to be the least attractive of the three, but I must admit that solo organ works are not high on my play list, generally speaking. Still, even for skeptics like me, it is worth a listen.
I am astonished that none of these works have been recorded previously. I am thankful that Albrecht and his colleagues have presented them so ably. These are gorgeous performances of important music. Has the time come for a Braunfels renaissance?
FANFARE: Raymond Tuttle
Works on This Recording
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