SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

“Arp-Schnitger-Orgel Norden Vol. 3” = Works of SCHEIDT, BACH, MOZART, BOHN, BUXTEHUDE – Luchterhandt & Janssen, organs – MD&G

All in all, an excellent introduction to what must be an imposing instrument in both sight and sound.

Published on December 22, 2012

“Arp-Schnitger-Orgel Norden Vol. 3” = ANON.: Brande champanje from the Claiverbuch der Susanne van Soldt; SAMUEL SCHEIDT: Veni Creator Spiritus, SSWW 153; BACH: Choral Fantasy “Wo Gott der Herr nicht bei uns halt,” BWV 1128; MOZART: Variations on “Ah vous dirais-je Maman,” K. 265; BACH: Toccata, Adagio, and Fugue in C Major, BWV 564; GEORG BÖHM: Vartions on the Choral “Wer nur den lieben Gott lässt walten”; BUXTEHUDE: Te Deum laudamus, BuxWV 218; MOZART: Andante with Variations in G Major, K. 501 – Agnes Luchterhandt and Thiemo Janssen, organ / Sven Neumann, percussion – Musikproduktion Dabringhaus und Grimm (MD&G), multichannel SACD MDG 942 1753-6 (2+2+2), 77:45 [Distr. by E1] ****:

The Arp Schnitger organ at the Ludgerikirche in the East Frisian city of Norden was installed by the Hamburg organ maker Schnitger in 1687, with additions in 1691–92. The instrument’s forty-six registers make it the largest organ in East Frisia, the second largest existing instrument by Schnitger, and a mighty exemplar among Baroque organs. The notes to the recording explain how the placement of the banks of pipes affect the sound as heard in different parts of the church: “Starting at the chancel, the organ ‘grows’ around the south-east pillar and out into the centre of the church, dominating it both acoustically and visually without completely obstructing the view of the choir. Depending on where one is in the church, the sound of the organ and the balance between the individual departments changes—an almost mystical, ever new experience that is as inimitable as the instrument’s sound.”

The present recording attempts to reflect these differences in balance according to whether a listener is sitting in the chancel or the transept. Without further cues from the notes, I confess I’m not able to hear the difference in perspective, but I can say that the recording does show off all of the instrument’s bells and whistles quite effectively—and quite literally. A bell stop gives the performance of Samuel Scheidt’s Veni Creator Spiritus that special otherworldly quality. (Actually, the stop sounds more like a scad of child-sized triangles than it does like little bells.) In the two Mozart arrangements, a bird whistle–like stop (a nightingale, if I know my bird whistles) lends atmosphere—maybe dubious atmosphere—to the music. Otherwise, the organ’s variety of registrations and hefty bass are always in evidence.

The musical selections are well chosen to exploit the colors of the organ, starting with the Branle champanje from the Clavierbüch der Susanne van Soldt of 1599. This book of keyboard works was compiled either by Suzanne herself or by her music teacher and is an important source book for Dutch organ music of the sixteenth century. The branle is a lively sixteenth-century dance, the champanje of the title further locating its roots in rural France. It’s played by the two organists together, and to add extra spice we have interjections by drums and tambourine, which seems entirely appropriate.

Much more sober-sided, as I’ve hinted, is the Scheidt work that follows, a lengthy elaboration of the hymn tune. To illustrate the basic setting of the tune as it was used in churches of this period, Agnes Luchterhandt offers treatments by Giles Binchois, Johann Eccard, Melchior Vulpius, and Scheidt himself. These treatments suggest the usual arrangement in which the choir intones the verses and the organ plays between each verse.

Buxtehude’s prelude displays the fantasy that he injected into this form, which was previously used just as an introductory section to chorale settings. Bach’s fantasia shows another treatment of a choral melody, pulling out all the stops, just as Luchterhandt does in her colorfully registered rendition of the piece. The other Bach work on the program—like the prelude, written early in his career—is the Toccata, Adagio, and Fugue, one of Bach’s best known and most influential works. It’s given a lusty interpretation here.

The other pieces show different facets of North German organ music and of the Norden Schnitger organ. For some listeners, the Mozart selections might be questionable in this company, especially since they are arrangements of works originally written for the fortepiano and/or harpsichord. However, they do show that Agnes Luchtenhardt is a skillful arranger even if the lightness and even lightheartedness of the originals get lost among the stops and pedals of the Baroque organ. The two organists share the responsibility of playing the two arrangements, Luctenhardt the first and husband Thiemo Janssen the second. Both players seem to be working against the resonant acoustic, slowing the music down to capture some of the crispness of the scalar passages in Mozart’s originals. Still, even if these aren’t totally successful either as arrangements or performances, they do add to the variety of the program and manage to showcase a different facet of the instrument.

Although I wasn’t able to appreciate the changes in perspective the recording is supposed to offer, it’s otherwise a very successful piece of work on the part of the engineers, seeming to truthfully convey the instrument’s sonorities top to bottom and communicating well the ambiance of the Ludgerikirche. All in all, despite my reservations about the Mozart, this is an excellent introduction to what must be an imposing organ both in sight and sound.

—Lee Passarella




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