I played this CD soon after reviewing a
3-CD Teldec reissue of Herbert Tachezi playing music of much
the same period on Austrian organs roughly contemporary with
the Mundt instrument employed here (2564 69455-8). Not having
heard Pavel Kohout before, I expected the new Hortus recording
to be somewhat overshadowed by that reissue, but such was not
the case. The cover is rather drab and uninviting by comparison
with the attractive still life on the front of the Teldec, but
this is a most enjoyable recording on a most appropriate instrument.
It’s just right for a Sunday afternoon, when I listened to it.
The booklet offers detailed and scholarly
notes by Kohout himself on the composers and the music, in
French, English and Czech. I am indebted to these for information
on Seger and Kopřiva, whom I had not encountered before,
and on Gottlieb Muffat, who had barely registered on my radar
by comparison with his much better-known father Georg. Without
claiming him as an undiscovered genius, I thought the one
work by Kopřiva which concludes the CD (track 11) well
worth hearing. He died of tuberculosis at the age of 29,
so he might well have gone on to achieve greater things.
One of Kohout’s avowed objectives is to
make the music of Josef Seger better known. He certainly
achieved that as far as I was concerned and the CD is well
worthwhile for that reason alone. I’d certainly now like
to hear more of his music, though there don’t seem to be too
many opportunities for that: a Prelude in c minor on a CD
of Christmas Music at the Court of Dresden (Carus 83.169)
is all that I have been able to find. Perhaps Pavel Kohout
and Hortus could be persuaded to oblige with a second CD.
As for Kopřiva, I can find only one other work, a Mass
in D, in a recital which also includes the same Fugue on DEBEFE
as on the Hortus CD, and music by his father Václav Jan and
his brother Jan Jáchym (SU39082, 4 CDs, also available as
a download from eMusic).
The notes on the Mundt organ, constructed
in 1673 and virtually intact in its original state are also
extremely informative; non-specialists may balk at such information
as “the characteristic sound of the instrument is defined
by its labial pipes topped by a six rank mixture stop ...”
though a quick self-taught crash course from the article on
organ in any edition of the Oxford Companion
to Music would help.
The complete specification shows what a
hefty sound the instrument is capable of making, with a 16’
manual stop and two 16’pedal stops – the commissioners in
the 1670s were adamant that they wanted a loud organ and,
indeed, the overall sound is less bright, more beefy than
that of the Austrian instruments on the Teldec set. Thankfully,
Kohout is sparing in his employment of these 16’ stops, limiting
their use to the ‘bigger’ pieces, such as the opening Prelude
and Fugue and the closing Fugue – all too often
organists get carried away with too much 16’ tone in baroque
Throughout the recital Kohout’s playing
is idiomatic, instructive and entertaining. As is apparent
from the booklet, he varies his chosen registration to suit
the needs of each piece – very light for the Seger Fantasia
and Fugue (track 2) much heavier for the preceding Prelude
and Fugue (tr. 1) and more varied, though not heavy in
the Fischer Aria in which he achieves a number of interesting
aural effects with the great variety of solo stops at his
disposal (tr.3). For the Kerll Passacaglia (tr.6)
he employs just one 8’ and one 4’ stop to excellent effect.
The use of the Cymbelstern stop in the Kerll Canzona
(tr.5) is particularly effective.
This Kerll Canzona is the one piece
which also occurs on the Tachezi recital. The first, fugue
section is lively enough to dispel any notions to which the
d minor key may give rise, though the piece later takes on
a slightly darker hue. Both performers offer lively performances
of the piece; Tachezi is slightly more nimble, but I much
prefer the sound of the Prague organ to that of Tachezi’s
Klosterneuburg Festorgel, then in its unrestored state.
The Hortus recording is close but not unduly
so – there is a degree of ambience without too much resonance.
It’s at least as good as Teldec’s 1980/1 DDD recordings and
better than the 1968 ADD sound on parts of their 3-CD set,
good as that is for its age.
The booklet is excellent – not far off
the kind of thing one expects from Hyperion: like them, it’s
hard to get it back in the case – with external and internal
illustrations of the organ. For all the detail about the
organ, I couldn’t find details of the temperament or pitch
of the instrument. The Czech text appears to be the original;
the English translation, from which the French version was
made, is idiomatic.
This Hortus CD wouldn’t be my first recommendation
for a recording of baroque organ music: you might prefer to
go for the Teldec recital first – 3 CDs for rather less than
this single disc – or one of the three Apex CDs which contain
the same music, but those who already have some of the organ
works of this period in their collection could do much worse
than to acquire the new CD: it shows how far Czech performances
of baroque music have come since the 1960s Supraphon LP of
Corelli which was my introduction to his Opus 6 Concertos.
If you find it hard to come by, don’t forget that you can
order Hortus CDs direct from MusicWeb International.