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Concerti per Organo
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Concerto for organ and orchestra in B flat, op. 4,2 (HWV 290) [09:46]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Prelude and fugue in e minor (BWV 548) [14:56]
Concerto for organ and orchestra in d minor (after BWV 146, 188 & 1052) [23:20]
Trio super Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr (BWV 664) [04:46]
Carl Philipp Emanuel BACH (1714-1788)
Concerto for organ and orchestra in G (Wq 34 / H 444) [25:41]
Lucas Pöhle (organ)
Dresdner Barockorchester/Margret Baumgartl, Lucas Pöhle
rec. 2019 at the Evangelisch-Lutherische Kirche, Crostau, Germany
RONDEAU ROP6185 [78:29]

Two of the three composers represented on this recording were born in the same year, while the third is the son of one of them. Despite these superficial connections, there is a stylistic chasm between the works in the programme which makes, what on paper seem logical, something of an illogical listening experience.

Perhaps describing this as a programme of organ concertos sets a false trail. There are other things here besides organ concertos; indeed, to be pedantic, there is only one proper organ concerto here. The work by C. P. E. Bach is a keyboard concerto most likely intended for harpsichord, while the J. S Bach Concerto is an assemblage of movements drawn from three different cantatas, with a strangely Vivaldian cadenza thrown into the mix to muddy the waters still further. On top of that, Lucas Pohle uses two solo organ works by Bach to show off two very different sides to this historic instrument.

The Handel Concerto is, of course, a genuine organ concerto and it gets a scintillating performance here from Pohle and the Dresden Baroque Orchestra. Despite that, and the lovely, heady sound from the church at Crostau, this is, in terms of historical authenticity, entirely the wrong instrument for this music. Handel wrote his concertos for the English organ, which at the time, was radically different from the North German counterparts typified by this famous Silbermann, and from all contemporary accounts of the performances Handel gave, we can reckon that these Dresden players are also making a very different sound from that which Handel would have expected from his London musicians. Authenticity, we should realise, is not a matter solely of time, but of place, and what might have been right for the late 18th century in North Germany most certainly was not right for the late 18th century in England. But, for most listeners, such nit-picking pedantry will cut no ice, and they will be happy (as I am) that Handel is given such a fine performance on a wonderful-sounding instrument and by players of the highest calibre. Certainly Pohle has tried hard to expunge from his registrations the kind of stops which reek most powerfully of the North German Baroque, but it’s still not what Handel would have expected (something a little closer to genuine authenticity can be found on Hyperion CDD22052 review). By any terms, however, this is a scintillating performance, much enhanced by some superbly stylish playing from the Dresden orchestra.

The organ is let rip in all its glory for the J. S. Bach concerto compilation. But for all that, it sounds like what it is; a mish-mash of rehashed Bach excerpts which do not sit particularly well together and, with the heady combination of piercing mutations and conflicting temperaments, does not really make for happy listening. With an organ which is so obviously intended to stand on its own two feet, it is easy to understand why it was Handel rather than Bach who felt the need to devise the genre of an organ concerto: Pohle’s speculation in his booklet note concerning Bach’s “lost” Organ Concerto is entirely fanciful. No criticism here of Pohle’s playing, however, which is gloriously muscular and much enlivened by his liberal sprinkling of extemporisations and generous cadenzas, even if the one in the third movement seems to be more in the style of Vivaldi than Bach.

The C P E Bach concerto may well have been published with an option to perform it on the organ, but the solo writing is too thin and delicate to suit the instrument. Pohle’s interaction with the orchestra is exemplary, and much of the conversational character of the writing is well conveyed. He also attempts to avoid the kind of registrations he used in the older Bach’s work, but what he comes up with is really too fussy and colourful to be convincing, and at times it blurs the clean lines of the younger Bach’s essentially Classical style.

The Silbermann organ at Crostau dates from 1732 and is renowned as one of the finest surviving 18th century organs in Germany. It is, quite obviously, only truly in its element in the solo works of Bach. Pohle includes two highly contrasted ones here. The Prelude and Fugue in E minor (once widely known amongst English organists as “The Wedge”, although it’s a long time since I have seen it thus labelled) gets as sturdy and gloriously full-throated performance, while the chorale prelude on Allein Gott in der Höh sei Her is delightful in its clarity and delicacy.

Marc Rochester
Previous review: Johan van Veen

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