The Organ of Oslo Cathedral
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV565 [9:32]
Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)
Holberg Suite [20:03]
Arild SANDVOLD (1895-1984)
Variations on a Norwegian Folk Tune – “Eg veit I himmerik ei borg” [7:19]
Oskar LINDBERG (1887-1955)
Gammal Fäbodpsalm från Dalarna [4:24]
Kåre NORDSTOGA (b.1954)
Max REGER (1873-1916)
Chorale Fantasia “Wie schön leucht’ uns der Morgenstern”, Op.40 No.1 [17:36]
Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893)
Meditation on Prelude in C by JS Bach [3:51]
Kåre Nordstoga (organ)
rec. February 2015, Oslo Cathedral
LAWO LWC1103 [66:31]
The facts about the instrument first of all. Built in 1998 by the Norwegian firm of Ryde & Berg, it sits behind a façade which belonged to the original 1727 organ, claimed to be Scandinavia’s largest organ at the time. It has three manual divisions and 53 speaking stops. But while the stop list suggests a variety of voicings ranging from the German Baroque to the French Romantic with a bit of Italian thrown in, the sound has that heavy, almost thick quality which seems more akin to German instruments of the early 20th century.
And that is powerfully demonstrated by Kåre Nordstoga, who has been organist at Oslo Cathedral since 1984. He knows what sounds best on this instrument, and shows it off brilliantly in a magnificently grandiose account of the massive Chorale Fantasia by Reger. The seamless way in which he moves across this vast canvas, often making light work of Reger’s weighty textures and oppressive chromaticism, is impressive, and he is supported by an organ which really does sound absolutely in its element here.
Despite nods towards the Baroque in the Grieg and Bach works, there is nothing here which shows either the organ or Nordstoga as deeply sympathetic to this area of the repertory. The Gounod Meditation (which is the original organ version of what later became the immensely popular Ave Maria) drifts by pleasantly enough, and the lovely (and increasingly popular) Gammal Fäbodpsalm by the Swedish composer Oskar Lindberg floats unobtrusively out of the speakers in this somewhat arms’ length recording. But the organ seems to have no clear personality which would offer anything memorable or even distinctive to these gentler pieces.
The Holberg Suite does work exceptionally well as an organ piece, but I am not convinced of that here, not so much because of the organ – which does have a tendency to overburden Grieg’s miniature Baroque-style dances with its weighty tone – but because Nordstoga seems in too much of a hurry to get through it. He approaches it more in the style of a 19th French organ suite than an 18th century north German one, and while there is some logic and legitimacy to this, I am not sure that it works on this particular instrument with its somewhat ponderous character.
The most interesting pieces here are the Norwegian ones, notably the Sandvold Variations, but a mixture of the undemonstrative playing and undistinguished organ tone, plus the rather distant recording quality, reduces it to the feeling of a quiet voluntary in service, rather than a piece demanding our fullest attention.
The documentation with the disc is tersely factual but the illustrations generous and colourful. Possibly intended more as a souvenir product than one for general consumption, this is nevertheless a recording which organ enthusiasts might do well to seek out – if only for the splendid account of the Reger.