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Hyperion Records

CDA67612 - Organ Fireworks, Vol. 12
Fireworks at Fontainebleau to celebrate the marriage of Le Duc d'Orléans (1837) by Camille-Joseph-Étienne Roqueplan (1803-1855)
Musée Condé, Chantilly, France / Giraudon / Bridgeman Art Library, London
CDA67612

Recording details: April 2007
Haderslev Cathedral, Denmark
Produced by Paul Spicer
Engineered by Simon Eadon
Release date: February 2008
Total duration: 76 minutes 45 seconds

'Herrick and Hyperion are to be congratulated for this excellent endeavour' (American Record Guide)

'The unfailingly superb Christopher Herrick … this instrument is just right for this music, and the sumptuous Hyperion sound captures it all with great clarity … these are fireworks good and proper, lit with unerring precision and vividly displayed … Herrick has come up with performances of the two great French show-pieces which are so perfectly suited to the instrument that these wonderful performances stand as yardsticks … you have, for my money at least, the most glitteringly splendiferous set of Fireworks so far' (International Record Review)

'Christopher Herrick is an artist of the first rank … superbly characterful performances … and the sounds of this instrument are captured in beautiful, rich color' (Fanfare, USA)

'A magnificently played transcription of the Brahms Academic Festival Overture, registering the bass tunes with a memorable hollowed-out wheeze which suggests these students are nursing a hangover' (Oxford Today)

Organ Fireworks, Vol. 12
Ben ritmico  [2'31]
Scherzando  [1'38]
Tempo I  [2'44]
No 1: F major  [5'01]
Passacaglia  [12'41]
Fugue  [6'39]

Christopher Herrick’s enduring Organ Fireworks series on Hyperion is one of the most comprehensive and popular collections of repertoire in existence. For this twelfth volume he turns to the great organ of Haderslev Cathedral in Denmark, and performs a fascinating range of works with his usual triumphal panache.

A number of these pieces have a Danish connection, including two spirited works by Buxtehude who probably grew up in Denmark, and Tre Tonestykker by Niels Wilhelm Gade, a native of Copenhagen who was admired by Mendelssohn.

The third of Dupré’s Trois Préludes et Fugues is among the best-known and most popular of his works, notwithstanding its fearful technical difficulties. The final page, in which the notes hurtle towards the magnificent final cadence, places this among the most memorable of all fugues for organ.

The Czech composer Petr Eben (1929–2007) is represented by his Hommage à Buxtehude.


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Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Dietrich Buxtehude died in Lübeck, where he was Organist of the Marienkirche, on 9 May 1707. Neither the year nor the place of his birth can be stated with complete certainty, although the former is generally thought to have been 1637, and candidates for the latter can be reduced to a short-list comprising Helsingborg in Sweden, Helsingør in Denmark, and Oldesloe in Holstein. It seems certain, however, that he grew up in Denmark, and although he spent nearly forty of his seventy-odd years in Lübeck, a German city, and although ‘Buxtehude’ is a German place-name, no one begrudges the Danes their claim on him—a claim underlined by the choice of a Danish cathedral organ for this recording. Whatever the precise facts about his origins, Buxtehude was among the most important and influential figures in north European organ music in the period immediately preceding J S Bach’s maturity: it is well known that the younger composer undertook the journey from Arnstadt to Lübeck specifically in order to hear the great man and was so captivated that he incurred his employers’ wrath by taking too long a break in the northern city.

The flamboyant passage for pedals alone which opens the Prelude, Fugue and Chaconne in C major, BuxWV137, establishes not only the key of the work but also its mood. There are grand, rhetorical chords, downward-rushing scales, a quickly abandoned fugato, and a passage in which manuals and pedals enjoy lively conversation. The music proceeds without a break to a four-voice fugue on a subject drawn from the second bar of the opening pedal solo, and the very regular exposition is followed by a number of counter-expositions. The jolly three-bar ostinato of the third movement, also based on the pedal solo’s second bar, drives the work to a spirited conclusion.

The Prelude and Fugue in G minor, BuxWV148, is more complex in structure and altogether less extrovert in character. The opening bars, a kind of free extemporization, lead to a chromatic, imitative passage and thence to a four-voice fugue on a subject memorable for its repeated notes and falling diminished sevenths. There is a second fugue, in triple time, on a subject moving largely by step, and the work ends, as did BuxWV137, with an ostinato-based section, the dignified nine-note ground being shared by manuals and pedals.

The Czech composer Petr Eben was born in 1929 and died in 2007. His Hommage à Buxtehude, subtitled Toccatenfuge, was commissioned by the Ministry of Education and Cultural Affairs of Schleswig-Holstein, who clearly plumped for Oldesloe as the place of Buxtehude’s birth and regarded ‘circa 1637’ as justifying 350th anniversary celebrations in 1987, to which year the work belongs. The score has a preface comprising quotations from the two works with which this programme begins, i.e. the first bar of BuxWV137 and the first fugue-subject of BuxWV148. The first section, Con enfasi, ma più Allegro che Buxtehude, is based on the first bar of the C major work and constitutes a brilliant, improvisatory introduction. The second, Ben ritmico, dwells on the repeated-note fugue-subject of the G minor work, making occasional references to the C major pedal solo. The third, Scherzando, also based on the G minor fugue-subject, is fugal in character. The last movement, Tempo I, is a stunning toccata based on the rhythm of Buxtehude’s pedal solo, the outline of the G minor fugue-subject contributing increasingly powerful commentaries from the pedals. Buxtehude’s musical vocabulary was such that he would almost certainly have been bewildered by Eben’s work, fine though it is; but he could hardly fail to be moved by the highly inventive use it makes of his material, or fail to see in the work as a whole something of his own apparent joie de vivre.

A native of Copenhagen, and therefore reinforcing the Danish theme of this programme, Niels Wilhelm Gade (1817–1890) attracted the attention of Mendelssohn, who performed the young composer’s first symphony at a concert given by the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra; and the success of that work led to Gade becoming assistant to Mendelssohn, whom he eventually succeeded as conductor of the orchestra. His Tre Tonestykker, Op 22, were written in 1851 and published by Breitkopf & Härtel in 1852–3. The first of them, marked Moderato, is a tuneful, spirited essay in sonata form whose second subject, fugal in character, generates a momentum maintained unflaggingly to the grand final bars.

In the first half of the twentieth century, the twenty sonatas of the Munich-based composer Joseph Rheinberger (1839–1901) were a mainstay of the repertoire of most organists. They went somewhat out of fashion in the 1960s but are nowadays widely regarded once again as worthily complementing the organ works of such mainstream nineteenth-century figures as Mendelssohn, Schumann, Liszt and Brahms; and some of the movements are, indeed, as finely wrought as anything in the works of his more famous contemporaries. The Sonata No 4 in A minor, Op 98, dates from 1876 and has a sonata-form first movement with a second subject based on the ancient psalm melody Tonus Peregrinus. The work is an example of cyclic form, and by dovetailing some twenty bars of its finale into the end of the first movement, a weightier conclusion is achieved, one which liberates that movement from the sonata and confers upon it independent status as Fantasia on ‘Tonus Peregrinus’.

In spite of partial blindness, Louis Vierne (1870– 1937) became one of the outstanding French organist-composers of his generation, and in 1900 he was appointed Organist of the Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris, a post he held until his death. Carillon de Westminster, the final number of the third suite of his Pièces de fantaisie, dates from around 1927, and its dedication to Henry Willis III more than suggests that extemporization on the great Willis organ at Westminster Cathedral in London was its starting-point. The bell-sounds of the famous Westminster clock-tower are heard against a haze of reed colour, and the central section (in which those sounds are heard on the pedals in their real-life key of B flat major) leads to a blazing, full-organ conclusion which is one of the glories of the repertoire.

A native of Rouen, Marcel Dupré (1886–1971) was among the most famous and widely travelled organists of his day. In 1934, some thirty years after becoming his assistant, he succeeded Widor as Organist of St-Sulpice, Paris, and from 1926 to 1954 he was Professor of Organ at the Paris Conservatoire, whose Director he was from 1954 to 1956. His Trois Préludes et Fugues, Op 7, were written in the summer of 1914, the year in which he won the Premier Grand Prix de Rome, but they were not published until after the war. They are memorial works, each dedicated to the memory of a French organist, and the third, in G minor, is dedicated to Joseph Boulnois, who was Organist of St-Louis d’Antin. Notwithstanding its fearful technical difficulties, it is among the best-known and most popular of Dupré’s works. In the prelude, a plainsong-like theme emerges dreamily from flutes’ gently mordant effervescence and later appears above rich and ingeniously engineered harmony. The subject of the virtuosic, compound-time fugue encapsulates the composer’s name in speech-rhythm. The prelude’s plainsong-like theme reappears, first on the pedals, where it unobtrusively underpins the manuals’ incessant activity, and towards the movement’s end, where it heroically surmounts massive chords whose terrific momentum derives from the pedals’ rendering of the subject. The final page, in which the notes hurtle towards the magnificent final cadence, places this among the most memorable of all fugues for organ.

In 1879, the University of Breslau conferred upon Johannes Brahms (1833–1897) the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, and he responded by writing his Academic Festival Overture, Op 80, which received its first performance on 4 January 1881 at Breslau, in a concert which included Brahms’s only other overture, the Tragic Overture, Op 81. Based on a number of student songs, including in particular the famous Gaudeamus igitur, it is heard here in the arrangement made by Edwin Lemare (1865–1934). Like Dupré, Lemare was a famous recitalist and he composed for the organ, but his many organ arrangements of Wagner have proved a more enduring legacy, especially that of the Prelude to Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (recorded by Christopher Herrick on Organ Fireworks VI, CDA66778). This remarkably skilful reworking of Brahms’s equally spirited essay in C major shows how even the most exuberant of orchestral textures can be captured by manuals and pedals.

With the death of Sigfrid Karg-Elert (1877–1933) a great chapter in the history of German organ music seems to come to a close, one that began with Buxtehude and the other north German masters who inspired Bach; for although he leant somewhat in the direction of Impressionism, and had a thoroughly Romantic obsession with colour, Karg-Elert’s Choral-Improvisationen, Op 65, testify to a profound interest in the great traditions of German organ-writing, an interest which such late works as the Passacaglia and Fugue on B.A.C.H., Op 150, and the Partita retrospettiva, Op 151, further underline. The first of these works has roots, ultimately, in such things as the ostinato movements of Buxtehude, but it belongs also to a grand sequence of Bach homages whose other distinguished members include Schumann’s Six Fugues on B.A.C.H., Op 60, Liszt’s Prelude and Fugue on B.A.C.H., and Reger’s Fantasia and Fugue on B.A.C.H., Op 46; and it may well have been the last of these that caused Karg-Elert to fashion a Bach homage of his own, for Reger was his predecessor at the Leipzig Conservatoire. Written in 1931 and first performed at St John’s, Leipzig, Karg-Elert’s great homage opens with two massive harmonizations of B.A.C.H. which seem like gigantic portals before the colourful and sometimes strangely lit world of the passacaglia proper, in which the listener is led through a beguiling sequence of organ textures and colours. After such extraordinary luxuriance, the opening bars of the sturdy fugue strike a sober, disciplined note, and one is reminded that Karg-Elert’s procedures here are not so very different from those of Buxtehude in the fugues heard earlier in the programme. Indeed, the flamboyant ending seems very much like a twentieth-century echo of the high spirits one encounters in Buxtehude. Karg-Elert’s Passacaglia and Fugue on B.A.C.H., like Vierne’s Carillon de Westminster, is dedicated to the organ-builder Henry Willis III, and perhaps it too was inspired by the organ at Westminster.

Relf Clark © 2008


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