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Felix MENDELSSOHN-BARTHOLDY (1809-1847)
Complete Organ Music Volume 4
Sonata No. 4 in B flat op. 65 [15:55]
Andante Sostenuto in f minor [4:38]
Andante in D (2nd version) [1:16]
Fugue in d minor (1820) [2:01]
[Passacaglia] in c minor (1823) [5:28]
Fughetta in D (1834/5) [3:40]
Prelude in c minor (1841) [3:01]
Fantasia in g minor (after August 1823?) [2:29]
Fugue (fragment) [0:39]
completion of Fugue by J. Bate [2:15]
Allegretto in d minor (1844) [2:31]
Con moto maestoso in A (1844) [8:47]
Andante Con Moto in A (1844) [3:03]
Fugue in C (before 19/12/1844) [3:32]
[Chorale] in D (after 19/12/1844) [1:17]
Grave [2:01]
Andante con moto in c minor (1844) [3:26]
Moderato in C (1845) [2:22]
Andante in D (fragment, after 23/7/1844) [1:58]
Jennifer Bate (organ)
rec. All Saints Church, Margaret Street, London, St John’s Church, Upper Norwood, London, St Matthew’s Church, Bayswater, London, St Stephen’s Church, Bournemouth, Dorset, The Temple Church, London, Wimborne Minster, Dorset, November 2003-October 2004. DDD
SOMM SOMMCD 053 [71:45]

 

This is the fourth volume of five surveying the complete organ works of Felix Mendelssohn, played by Jennifer Bate. Bate had apparently recorded a portion of the works already when her attention was drawn to the new edition by Christian Martin Schmidt. This new edition contains many corrections and newly discovered works. Bate decided to start again.

I find it incomprehensible why Jennifer Bate's scholarly intentions regarding the text from which she plays completely fail to be matched by any form of aesthetic awareness of early romantic performance practice at the organ. The organs she chooses are way, way off the mark; not a single instrument with mechanical action and all from a very different time and ethos from the instruments Mendelssohn came across in this life. The organs here are, with one exception, late Victorian and Edwardian English instruments. The exception is the 1960s Walker at Wimborne Minster which sounds foul. Of the late romantic instruments, Percy Whitlock's Hill at Bournemouth sounds marvellous, as does the Lewis at Upper Norwood, the two big Harrisons at The Temple and All Saints Margaret Street are also very fine indeed. But the fact remains that Mendelssohn, even when in England, never dreamed of such instruments, far less played them. Bate tailors her playing to the organs rather than to Mendelssohn's music; she adds many dynamic changes, clarinets float in and out of the Swell box, the high pressure reeds and occasional celestes conjure up another age. Mendelssohn's music is conceived for the classical organs he knew; the few dynamic changes refer exclusively to change of manual or, occasionally, addition of stops, (as in the third Sonata). Articulation markings are dominated by the 'accent-slur', in fact a remnant of the beat-hierarchy of 17th and 18th century. By choosing these orchestrally conceived instruments and playing them accordingly Bate has, seemingly unwittingly, re-constructed the English performance practice of the 19-teens onwards and Mendelssohn's music is obscured accordingly.

It’s a shame also that the alternative versions of the movements of the 2nd sonata aren't played in the order they appear in that Sonata.

A new Mendelssohn recording is clearly required in light of recent research. Some alternative versions of the best known pieces are especially interesting. Please wait however for one played by an organist with a good sense of the aesthetics of the music, and recorded on one of the many fine organs dating from Mendelssohn's lifetime to be found throughout Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland and elsewhere. Bate, with her leaden performances on bloated instruments, misses the point badly on both counts.

Chris Bragg

 



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