There is not an ‘original’ piece of Bach organ music on this CD. Yet every note testifies to the master. Music history shows Bach reworking his own music as well as that of other composers. Not necessarily to make it ‘better’: more often to allow new life to breathe into an already impressive work. We need only think of JSB’s organ concerti which were transcriptions of music by Prince Johann Ernst of Saxe-Weimar, Anton Vivaldi and others, to get the drift of what has happened since.
The present CD opens with a stunning arrangement by French composer Alexandre Guilmant of the Sinfonia from the Cantata ‘Wir danken dir, Gott, wir danken dir’ (We thank you, God, we thank you), BWV 29. Bach’s music was derived from his Partita for violin, BWV 1006. Guilmant was building on the master’s own borrowings.
Everyone knows the heartbreakingly impressive Chaconne in D minor BWV 1004, the fifth movement of the Partita for violin no.2. Many will know the beautiful piano transcription by Ferruccio Busoni. It works equally well in this superb arrangement, by the American/German Wilhelm Middelschulte. I have never (consciously) heard this piece played on the organ. It is a worthy transcription.
The Echo, Partita in B minor, BWV 831, is the final movement of Bach’s ‘Overture in French Style’ in B minor, BWV 831. It is from the second part of the Clavier-Übung. Sigfrid Karl-Elert has done quite a bit of rearranging in this work. He has added additional voices, filled out the harmony and generally made the piece reflect nineteenth-century taste. That said, it is a happy work that does reflect the ethos Bach’s original.
I have never really taken to Franz Liszt’s ‘Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen.’ I do not know why. The piece is a set of variations built on a theme derived from the first movement of Bach’s eponymous cantata. The work was originally written for piano in 1862 and was transcribed for the organ the following year. The music is sad, reflecting the title (Weeping, Lamenting, Sorrows, Fear), the death of his daughter, Blandine, and the end of his prospects of marriage to Princess Caroline Wittgenstein.
Once again, I have not heard the two Inventions (BWV 777 and 783) played on the organ before. Transcribed by Max Reger and Michael Straube, these are effective when taken from their piano/clavier/harpsichord originals and played on this splendid instrument. In both cases the two-part inventions have been reworked for ‘trio playing’ allowing total independence of hands and feet. They are thoroughly satisfactory in this reimagining.
The final work on this CD is Max Reger’s Fantasia and Fugue on BACH, Op. 46 (1900). This work is a technically demanding piece that continues the practice of using B-A-C-H as the basic melodic cell for developing the musical material. The massive opening Fantasia feels like an improvisation. It is largely chromatic in its exploration of ‘the most dizzy heights of harmony and polyphony, fierce outlets interchange with adagio intermezzi…[and] crescendos which are kept running by the chromaticism of the [BACH] theme…’ The fugue opens quietly (pppp) followed by a double fugue which builds to a huge ‘apotheosis.’ It makes use of all the technical devices of augmentation, diminution, inversion and stretto. Although this is not a pastiche of Bach’s music, the sheer power, grandeur and constructive facility allows Max Reger to almost out Bach, Bach.
The wonderful organ in Aarhus Cathedral was originally built by Lambert Daniel Kastens, who was a student of Arp Schnitger of Hamburg. It was completed in 1730. In the intervening 286 years, the instrument has been rebuilt and enlarged. Major work was carried out in 1876 by the Danish organ builder John Andreas Demant and later in 1927 by Theodor Frobenius. This latter rebuild increased the stops numbers from 43 to 86, doubling the size of the instrument. The project was overseen by the Bach scholar Albert Schweitzer. Since 1927 three additional stops have been added, making it the largest pipe organ in Denmark. The magnificent baroque case has been retained. One of the features of this organ are the reed stops imported from France, which were clearly inspired by the French cathedral organ sound.
The full organ specification (essential for all organ CDs) is presented along with good colour photographs of the console and the organ case.
Kristian Krogsøe was appointed cathedral organist in 2007. In addition to these duties he teaches ‘solo organ class’ at the Royal Academy of Music in Aarhus and Esbjerg. Four years ago, Krogsøe released his debut album on Danacord (DACOCD 726) featuring the complete organ works of Maurice Durufle as well as the Requiem, op.9 and the Quatre motets sur des thèmes grégoriens, Op. 10. It received impressive reviews on MusicWeb International by Hannah Parry-Ridout and William Hedley. I have not [yet] been lucky enough to hear this CD.
This is a splendid release that does just as it says on the tin: provides a fitting tribute to J.S. Bach. This is at several levels. Firstly, the music of the master as arranged/transcribed/reworked by various hands, is clearly less-well-known than it deserves. Secondly, both Franz Liszt and Max Reger were both steeped in the organ (and other) music of Bach: they had ‘respect and gratitude to the enriching works of [Bach].’ Their original contributions build on (if not excelling) Bach’s organ work. And finally, the organ and organist of Aarhus present their own tribute: the liner notes suggest that the instrument (with its soloist) can ‘unfold in a symphony of varied timbres, the understanding of Bach’s influence on the genre of organ music [which] is extended through kaleidoscopic glasses.’
J.S. BACH (1685-1750) Sinfonia from Cantata BWV 29, arr. Alexandre GUILMANT (1837-1911)
J.S. BACH Chaconne in D minor, BWV 1004, arr. Wilhelm MIDDELSCHULTE (1863-1943)
J.S. BACH Echo, Partita in B minor, BWV 831, arr. Sigfrid KARG-ELERT (1877-1933)
Franz LISZT (1811-1886) Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen (1862)
J.S. BACH Two-Part Invention in E major, BWV 777, arr. Max REGER/ Michael STRAUBE (?)
J.S. BACH Two-Part Invention in A major, BWV 783, arr. Max REGER/ Michael STRAUBE
Max REGER (1873-1916) Fantasia and Fugue on BACH, Op. 46 (1900)
Kristian Krogsøe (organ)