Dietrich BUXTEHUDE (1637-1707)
Toccata in F, BuxWV156 [8:08]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Trio Sonata No. 1 in E flat, BWV525 [15:46]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Fugue in A flat minor, WoO.8 [8:18]
August Gottfried RITTER (1811-1885)]
Sonata in E minor, Op.19 [13:03]
Christian Heinrich RINCK (1770-1816)
Flötenkonzert in F, Op.55 [16:04]
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Sonata No.4 in B flat, Op.65 No.4 [15:31]
Mathias Neumann, organ.
rec. 3 Sept. 2014, St Osdag Basilica, Mandelsloh, Germany; 4 Sept. 2014, Marienkirche, Hamburg; 5 Sept. 2014, Martinskirche, Geismar Germany
RONDEAU ROP6132 [75:50]
It is a peculiarity of organ recordings that the focus of attention is often more on the instrument and the building in which it is housed than on either the music being played or the person playing it. Sometimes we are told that so-and-so is playing on a Bösendorfer piano or a Guarneri violin, but this is always incidental to who is doing the playing and, more importantly, what they are playing. Not so in the organ world, and it is for this reason that a plethora of otherwise unremarkable players and a vast body of wholly unremarkable music is presented as serious recordings simply because the instrument is of some historical or technical interest.
This is not to dismiss Matthias Neumann’s undoubted skills as an organ executant, nor the musical worth of Buxtehude, Bach et al, but this disc is simply released to present three organs all built or restored by a company called Orgelbau Jörg Bente founded in 1993 and based in Helsinghausen, Germany. They specialise in the restoration and renovation of organs and have been exceptionally fortunate in finding in Rondeau a record label willing to promote their work.
There are three organs on this disc. The oldest dates from 1861 and was originally built for the church of St Martin in Göttingen-Geismar by the firm of Philipp Furtwängler. It was restored in 2008. The second organ, also originally by Furtwängler, is in the basilica of St Osdag in Mandelsloh, dates from 1878 and was restored in 2011. The third was a classic example of the neo-Baroque ideas widely promulgated in the 1950s and 60s and built in 1962 by the Führer workshop for St Mary’s Church Hamburg. We are not told when it was that Bente got their hands on it, but it appears their chief objective was to rid it of some of the neo-Baroque excesses. There are more Bente renovations to be presented in future discs, we are told.
The trouble is, we are not told which music is played on which organ, and although I can hazard a guess, I would not like to commit my guesswork to public scrutiny; just point out that if Bente want to advertise their wares on CD, it might be a good idea to tell us which one of their wares they are exhibiting.
The most impressive sounding instrument is that which is used for the Bach Trio Sonata. Clear-toned, cleanly voiced and speaking with a crispness of attack which is ideal for this music, it is, for me, the highlight of the disc. For it also shows that Matthias Neumann, the thirty-something professor of organ at the Hochschule in Bayreuth, is a very capable organist indeed and, on the strength of this performance, one who deserves to be promoted on disc for his musical rather than his marketing skills. The recording is hugely sympathetic to organ, music and player.
An uneventful Flute Concerto for Organ by Rinck certainly reveals Neumann’s clarity and fluency of fingerwork, but does not show any great individuality in the organ itself. However, a dreary Sonata by Ritter is alleviated by some pleasing flute sounds (notably in the central slow section of this continuous three-section work), but it has a rather boxy quality which may be the recording, the building or the organ itself. As for the Brahms Fugue, its slender historical interest far outweighs its musical interest, and apart from an organ which makes its sombre contrapuntal progress rise above the turgid, I fail to see any justification for adding this to the programme.
I would be tempted to recommend Neumann’s invigorating performance of the Mendelssohn Fourth Sonata were it not for the solid and cumbersome organ sound which, while clearly true to the spirit of 19th century German organ tone, does little to support a performance which has, in this context, an inappropriately vigorous feel to it.
Neumann’s account of the Buxtehude Toccata would, however, survive even the direst of organ sounds. Luckily it does not have to, for whichever of these three Bente renovations/restorations it is being played on, it has a clean and bright quality which serves it well. The opening flourish has a fine sense of the magisterial, with a fine bright, reed-encrusted quality flowering brightly above a very firm 16 foot pedal reed. The big pleno is hefty without being in any way oppressive, while the Principal chorus displayed in the first fugal passage has a pleasingly silvery quality much enhanced by a generous ecclesiastical acoustic. Best of all are the chirping flutes and trumpet-crowned fugue in the last few pages of the work. Buxtehude’s music is served well by Neumann’s intelligent performance, while those who like the sound of the organ rather than the music played on it, will have no complaints about this well-rounded instrument.