Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Music Webmaster Len Mullenger:


Intrada, op.111a; Surusoitto, op.111b; Masonic Ritual Music, op.113: 1. Avvaushymni, 10. Surumarssi
Antonin DVORAK

Preludes in D, G, a, B flat; Fughetta in D; Fugues in D, g, D
Alexander GLAZUNOV

Prelude and Fugue in D, op.93; Prelude and Fugue in d, op.98; Fantasy, op.110

Hans-Ola Ericsson (organ) on the 1998 Gerald Woehl organ of St. Petrus Canisius, Friedrichshafen/Bodensee, Germany
BIS-CD-1101 [74' 10"]

In these days when we are expected to load our shelves with multi-volume complete editions of one thing or another, it is heartening to find that the complete organ music of Sibelius and Dvorak leaves enough space on one CD for most of Glazunov's as well. It may be news to many readers that these composers wrote organ music at all, and in the case of Dvorak he virtually didn't, for these are composition exercises from his student days which remained in the archives of Prague Conservatoire until they were found and edited by Jarmil Burghauser in 1980. Some of the world's most boring music has been written as before-service preludes and Dvorak's student exercises are more engaging than many a more professional job, but it would be unwise to read more into them than that. Occasionally Mr. Ericsson seems to be trying too hard, but generally he leaves their homely charm to speak for itself.

The Sibelius pieces come from late in his composing life. The Intrada offers mainly instant pomp and is rather wearingly loud but Surusoitto (Funeral Music) is of some importance. Sibelius's widow is said to have revealed that it used material from the destroyed 8th Symphony. If that is so, it shows that the composer was returning to the harsh, uncompromising world of the 4th Symphony. "This way leads to madness", he said when questioned as to why subsequent works went no further in that direction. Is this why he never succeeded in completing the 8th? Ericsson is effective here.

The remaining two pieces are solo movements from a work which otherwise uses a tenor soloist, and are attractive enough to arouse interest in the complete score.

If Sibelius and Dvorak were hampered by their lack of knowledge of the organ, Glazunov, like Saint-Saëns or Stanford, was a total professional in everything he did. The full range of the romantic organ is exploited and those who revel in a full flood of exciting organ sound and an exciting fugal build-up will rejoice in it all. Nothing very Russian emerges but the D minor work, in particular, is based on very striking material. It is strange that the otherwise excellent notes fail to notice that the Fantasy makes extensive and ingenious use of the Dies Irae theme. It would be interesting to know what is behind this, for surely we have here a moving last testament from the elderly, exiled composer who was to die not long after and who had virtually given up composition since the First World War.

Faced with much more challenging material, Ericsson is really magnificent, drawing a wide range of colours from the instrument and registering the 2nd movement (Allegretto pastorale) of the Fantasy with notable imagination. The organ itself is a new one, attractive in its lighter tones, but the reeds sound a bit fierce to my ears. Perhaps, since the reverberation period is not long by ecclesiastical standards, more acoustic ambience could have been added without affecting clarity? However, the booklet includes an interesting, if high-flown, note by the builder who speaks of the necessity of the organ to complete and reflect the architecture of the church. In particular he mentions the "violet-blue atmosphere created by the large pictures of the Stations of the Cross". That being so, perhaps we should not judge the organ from its sound alone - it's a pity a photograph was not included. Still, we have detailed notes on the music and the organist in 3 languages and full specifications of an instrument which organ enthusiasts will be glad to have so well displayed. And, if you get this for Dvorak and Sibelius, be prepared to find it's the Glazunov that really turns you on.

Christopher Howell

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