In 2009 the venue of the Duisburg Philharmonics, the Philharmonie Mercatorhalle, received a new concert organ in the anglo-late romantic style, modeled after the English Town Hall organs of the time. Such a glorious instrument deserves the very best from it debut recording, so Acousence brought together Roland Maria Stangier at the organ and its trademark high definition sound, reproduced exactly in Studio Master quality.
While most people first and foremost associate the sound of the organ with the instruments used in church, the organ looks back at a long tradition of being employed in the concert hall as well - in the form of the concert organ. These instruments can be characterised by an immense dynamic range and a great number of tonal colours. The abundant pedal, with a forceful and voluminous sound is typical, as well. Of course, Studio Master download provides the ideal vehicle for this sound, capturing all the nuances of the new organ.
The multi-faceted programme features original works for organ as well as transcriptions of famous orchestral works, which are typical for the heyday of these instruments in the 19th century, topped with some improvisations, perfectly illuminating the capabilities of the instrument and delivering a sonic adventure of a truly special kind.
This exciting new release from Acousence and organist Roland Maria Stangier marks the start of a new recording series from the label: High Definition Organ. Look out for more titles in this series in the future...
Gustav Holst "Jupiter" from Op. 32
"The chief aim should be to endeavour to make music which is arranged for the organ sound as though it had originally been written for it", wrote Herbert Ellingford in 1922 in his "The Art of Transcribing for the Organ". A testament to these words is the numerous transcriptions of symphonies, choral works and chamber music arranged between 1870 and 1930. The arrangements of the popular Englishmen Willam Thomas Best and Henry Lemare are because of their high quality and their technical demands very challenging and are the godparents of my version of the fourth movement of Holst's symphonic suite "The Planets", which he originally composed in 1916.
Holst not only studied the languages of India, as well as its literature and philosophy, but he was also interested in astrology. Because of its form and harmonic structure as well as its dizzying virtuosity demanded from the ample instrumentation called for, this seven-movement opus is extraordinarily original. Seven planets (Mars, Venus, Mercury, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune) are each subjectively "illuminated" or "described": "Recently the character of each planet suggested lots to me and I have been studying astrology fairly closely", wrote Holst in 1913.
So here, Jupiter is the bringer of jollity and not the austere god of Olympus firing bolts of thunder and lightning; a festive dance, excessive and frolicsome, interrupted by an introverted middle part. One of the most beautiful melodies is then heard, which Holst in a later work adapted for chorus and added a text to it as well. Holst's original version for two pianos and his version of "Neptune" for organ "duet" with very interesting and detailed registration directions also exist as well as the orchestral version.
Georg Friedrich Händel "Concerto for Organ and Orchestra", Op. 4 No. 5
The Organ Concerto Op. 4 No. 5 of 1738 was composed at about the same time as other important works such as the "Funeral Anthem for Queen Caroline" and "Esther" and is based on the Sonata for Flute ("German Flute, Hoboy or Violin") Op. 1 of 1725. Along with the other 15 concertos he wrote, this is the first real concert music of its kind. It is also entitled for variable instrumentation "for organ, harpsichord or pianoforte" and was originally conceived as theatre "interval music", a genre then continued by Thomas Arne, John Stanley and William Felton.
Not only did the Dutchman Samuel Lange, who dedicated his transcription of the Organ Concertos Op. 7 to "Hofcapellmeister Prof. Jos. Rheinberger", make "arrangements from the scores of the great masters". John Marsh (1752-1828), Samuel Sebastian Wesley (1810-76) and William Thomas Best (1826-97) were especially involved in arranging England's ever popular Händel, too.
Around 1861, Henry Smart (1813-1879), a famous London composer, organist and music critic in his day, published many Händel arrangements, including one played on this recording. Weight and simplicity on the one hand, brilliant virtuosity and variety of form on the other have excited listeners for nearly 300 years, so that we can only agree with Händel's best (critic) friend, Mary Pendarves, when she writes: "My sister gave you an account of Mister Handel's playing here for three hours together. I did wish for you, for no entertainment in music could exceed it, except for his organ playing in ESTHER, where he performs a part in two concertos, that is the finest thing that I ever heard in my life."
Louis Vierne "Claire de lune" and "Carillon de Westminster" from Op. 53/54
Ten years before his death, between successful concert tours in seven European countries and the US, Louis Vierne, titulaire of Notre Dame, composed his 24 fantasias in four suites. He dedicated them to friends, colleagues, former students and to his brother. Two of these fantasias are dedicated to organ builders whose instruments Vierne greatly admired in addition to his beloved Cavaillé-Coll organs. They are examples of displaying the flexible symphonic orchestral sound (in concert halls as well as churches), the highest technical level and exquisite sound quality at the turn of the last century: the instruments of the "Willis" dynasty in England and of Ernest Skinner in Boston. The latter was also admired by Charles-Marie Widor, Albert Schweitzer and Marcel Dupré
These are pieces which are indeed fantastic: a breathtakingly solid form, technically astute treatment of the instrument and a unique unity of melody, phrasing, harmony and rhythm as well as the intended registration (couleur génerale). Vierne, who celebrated triumphs but also went through difficult times both in his personal life and professionally (death of his children and brother, his failed marriage, unsuccessful eye operations), succeeded in finally opening up the organ to impressionism with these contrasting short, demanding concert pieces, sometimes with picturesque titles ("Wraith", "Nymphs", "Evening Star", "Will-o'-the-wisp"). An interesting comparison to Sigfrid Karg-Elert ("Pictures of Lake Constance", "Cathedral Window") can be made.
The dream-like Ravellian flair of "Clair de lune" charms us until we are lost in reverie. The brilliant and popular "Carillon de Westminster" does no less. Among all the Carillons composed over the centuries (Corrette, Charpentier, Boellmann, Alkan, Mulet, Nibelle, Sowerby, Dupré), this is an opus magnum which transforms and illuminates the motif of "The Voice of Bitain" with its famous "Big Ben" bell in so many different layers that the effect and progression (especially in resonant spaces) is "staggering".
Let us once again hear Vierne himself, from a letter to the organ builder E. Skinner from 1927: "Whenever I have played an organ from your company, and I have played many [...] I have always felt a deep sense of awe and a great feeling of contentment [...] the highest standard of technical perfection, the most pleasant playing characteristics and excellent security of function [...] in their variety of stops, the differentiated colours of sound and power, your instruments are unparalleled."
Frank Bridge "Adagio in E" and "Allegro Marziale"
Composer, conductor and violist Frank Bridge wrote just 13 short works for organ between 1901 and 1939. The two recorded for this disc were composed in 1905 and could be seen as sort of a link between Elgar and Holst. On the periphery of Vaughan-Williams, Ireland, Howells and Whitlock, Bridge's slender organ oeuvre is a unique legacy of English organ music at the beginning of the twentieth century, sounding exquisite on British organs of the time and never falling short of being effective. The three-part "Allegro marziale" fulfils all the demands of a richly-sounding, triumphant march. His most famous organ work, the "Adagio in E", is a subtle meditation, even with all its weight, starting from nothing. Lament? Comfort? Grief? Resignation?
In 1914, the string "Meditace" by Dvorák's student Josef Suk appeared and in 1938, one year before Bridge's death, Arturo Toscanini conducted the premiere of the famous "Adagio for Strings" by American Samuel Barber. There are countless treasures of this genre, but Bridge succeeded here in producing a convincing and moving highly romantic and expressive organ work.
Edward Elgar "Nimrod" from Op. 36
"Nimrod" in a version for organ? Nothing extraordinary by any means, considering Elgar also wrote a piano arrangement of the renowned ninth movement of his 1899 Enigma Variations which served as a model for the version recorded here. Elgar's father set up a music shop and was organist at St. George's Catholic Church in Worcester. Edward often sat in for him and then succeeded him in this position in 1885 until 1889. There are only very few original works which he dedicated to the organ. Two extremely different compositions come to mind: one is the short "Vesper Voluntaries", which is a very interesting companion piece to César Franck's "L'organiste", Léon Boellmann's "Heures Mystiques", "L'organiste Liturgiste" by Alexandre Guilmant and the "Short Preludes" by Charles Stanford and Henry Wood; the other is the masterful four-movement Sonata in G Major, a standard work of the organ repertoire which appeared four years before the Enigma Variations.
Elgar, admired by Fauré and Richard Strauss, was not only the master of large vocal and instrumental genres (Dream of Gerontius, Pomp and Circumstance, symphonies, concertos). He also composed small, fine, atmospheric miniatures like "Nimrod". The version played here in Duisburg uses similar colours to those which Elgar had available to him on his new organ in 1885 in Worcester: Clarabella, Dulciana, Diapason, Voix Céleste, Salicional, Keraulophone, etc.
César Auguste Franck "Final" Op. 21
What an event! I wish I could have been there on 17th November,1864, when the composer premiered his "Six pièces" in the Church of Ste. Clotilde in Paris. Known in Paris as a remarkable interpreter and a brilliant improviser, Franck had already given numerous concerts and also participated in inaugural festivities such as those at Notre Dame, St. Suplice, St. Etienne-du-Mont, Ste. Clotilde. He could also be heard at the "Ateliers Cavaillé-Coll".
It cannot be overemphasized that these works, composed between 1856 and 1864, as well as both comprehensive collections of shorter pieces for (pedal) harmonium or organ, his "Trois Pièces" of 1878 and his last "Trois Chorals" of 1890, are masterworks of French organ music of the second half of the 19th century. Around the same time as his colleagues' compositions were published such as Guilmant ("Pièces dans différents styles"), Saint-Saens ("3 Rhapsodies"), Chauvet ("20 morceaux") or Lefébure-Wély ("L'organiste moderne"), this collection contains the reserved and complex "Fantasie", the weighty and grandiose "Grande Pièce Symphonique", the charming and melancholy "Prélude, Fugue, Variation", the picturesque and cantabile "Pastorale", the serious and contemplative "Prière" and the grandiose and triumphant "Final" played here.
Grand gestures are on display here: with great discharges of pedal soli, wonderful, lyric subordinate themes with great long melodic lines, progressive harmony, exciting modulations, masterful connections of themes and breathtaking climaxes, striking and brilliant, poured into a Beethoven-like sonata movement form; expression and virtuosity connected to each other in an ideal way. And we forget not what was also going on in the world of the Grand opéra and Opérette in Paris: Offenbach's "Orphée aux enfers" and "La belle Hélène", Bizet‘s "The Pearl Fishers", Gounod‘s "Faust" und Berlioz‘s "Les Troyens"...
Zsolt Gárdonyi "Grand Choeur"
"Organ compositions entitled Grand Choeur such as those by César Franck, Jacques-Nicolas Lemmens, Théodore Dubois, Alexandre Guilmant und Eugène Gigout are often conceived as preludes and postludes for worship services and traditionally contain registration directions at the start. In France, Grand Choeur indicates a composition whose sound is characterized by its high proportion of reed stops. My GRAND CHOEUR is tied to this French organ tradition and was written in 1979 based on one of my worship service improvisations during 1971-75 at the organ of the Alexanderkirche Wildeshausen", this according to the composer.
Zsolt Gárdonyi, son of Zoltán Gárdonyi, a student of Kodály and Hindemith, taught for over three decades at the music conservatory in Würzburg. His organ compositions reflect the centre of his output in addition to his published chamber music and choral works as well as numerous works on music theory.
I heard this work for the first time in 1979 when I was a student of Zsolt Gárdonyi as I went into the church for a lesson and the composer was working on the written version or rather a revision of the work. I was captivated by the music in that moment. I asked him to give me a copy of the handwritten manuscript and soon played the Grand Choeur in concerts and for the radio. It is a worthy homage to the numerous French (and Anglo-American) Grand Choeurs, which is a written out improvisation, fresh as the first day it was played, a fitting close of this journey through the organ music of England and France.
by Roland Maria Stangier