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Mons Leidvin Takle’s vigorous opener—everything you would expect from a work called Yes!—sets the mood for the whole of an infectiously upbeat recital.
Written in 2015 and dedicated to the Finnish organist Marko Hakanpää, Yes! is as positive as its title. This non-stop joyous and celebratory piece is carried along energetically on the back of its stamping Spanish dance rhythms and catchy melodies.
Iain Farrington has an exceptionally busy and diverse career as a pianist, organist, composer and arranger. He has performed worldwide alongside artists such as Bryn Terfel, Lesley Garrett and Paul McCartney; he played the piano at the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics with the London Symphony Orchestra and Simon Rattle, refusing to be distracted by the antics of Mr Bean next to him; and he has had a number of orchestral works broadcast by the BBC, including Gershwinicity, commissioned for the 2018 Proms, and Beethoveniana (a virtual performance) for the 2020 Proms. Two dramatic choral cantatas—The burning heavens for choir, strings and piano, and An old belief for choir and organ—were commissioned and have been performed by Twickenham Choral under Christopher Herrick’s direction.
Farrington’s numerous compositions for organ include Lay my burden down, a set of five pieces based on African-American spirituals and traditional songs, composed in 2017. No 3 in the set is Amazing grace, a continuous sequence of jazz/gospel variations on the tune that needs no introduction, full of joy and optimism.
Théodore Dubois was known in his time as an eclectic composer whose output included orchestral and operatic scores as well as sacred choral works and eighty-eight pieces for the organ. He was organist at Sainte-Clotilde in Paris, before succeeding Saint-Saëns at the church of the Madeleine. Fiat lux, in many ways a typical French organ toccata, comes from Dubois’ Douze pièces nouvelles, published in 1892 and dedicated to the English organist, composer and arranger W T Best.
The fanfare-like moments give the piece its especially brilliant character. Starting quietly, it grows and grows to the composer’s desired dynamic of ffff—the gradual emergence of blazing light from initial obscurity, as in the Book of Genesis: ‘And God said, “Let there be light”.’
Christian Praestholm has written, among other works, nearly 300 hymn preludes which are widely played liturgically and in concert, particularly in Denmark. The composer has recorded a selection of these preludes on the P G Andersen organ in his own church: Sankt Mortens Kirke, Randers.
Here are three fine examples, each one preceded by the hymn melody. Se, nu stiger solen af havets skød (‘See the golden sun rising from the ocean’) starts on a soft, lugubrious low C and builds gradually and majestically to a great, full-organ C major chord. The pictorial effect, progressing from deep darkness to glorious blazing light, is shattering. In contrast, the light-hearted I østen stiger solen op (‘The sun is rising in the east’) swings after a short adagio introduction into a jazzy allegro that toys with strict fugato but soon abandons academic rigour for sheer joie de vivre. Du, som gir os liv og gør os glade (‘Lord, you give us life and happiness’) is a lively and brilliant toccata that makes the most of the repeated notes in the hymn tune.
Percy Fletcher was Musical Director at the Savoy and Drury Lane theatres in London, and is remembered chiefly for orchestrating and conducting the hit-musical Chu Chin Chow in 1916. Both organ pieces recorded here were written in 1915, the toccata being dedicated to the virtuoso English organist and composer Edwin Lemare.
The atmospheric Fountain reverie sets a sentimental tune against a rippling accompaniment, returning in a slightly more opulent manner after the gentle, romantic middle section.
The Festival toccata is bold and vigorous, its flashy fanfares answered each time by the feet in overdrive. For a composer who wrote so little for the organ, this piece displays remarkable technical mastery. The mood is consistently upbeat and celebratory.
The Swedish composer Anders S Börjesson is the organist of Mariestad Cathedral, on the eastern shore of Lake Vänern in central Sweden. This Toccata, written in 2015, is the third of Tre stycken (‘Three pieces’), and it is based on the German chorale melody ‘Lobe den Herren, den mächtigen König der Ehren’ (‘Praise the Lord, the almighty king of creation’), a hymn of praise by Zacharias Topelius written in 1869 to partner Joachim Neander’s 1680 chorale melody.
Throughout the piece, Börjesson plays with fast rhythmic patterns, each adding up to ten—either 4+3+3, 5+5, or 3+3+4. The toccata starts with lively flourishes in the right hand while the chorale melody appears in the left hand and pedal. These rhythmic patterns permeate a sprightly dance, which spills over into a more lyrical section, in turn bursting into a dynamically growing fugato. This leads inexorably into the equally fast-paced finale, where the chorale melody weaves its way triumphantly through the voices. Then, without interruption, the brief coda, hinting at the chorale melody in E flat, plunges this exuberant piece briskly towards an abrupt F major cadence.
Hans-André Stamm was born and still lives near Cologne in Germany. He studied piano and organ from the age of seven, giving his first solo organ concert at the age of eleven, and a recital at Notre-Dame in Paris at sixteen. Studies at the Conservatoire royal de Liège in Belgium were crowned with a diplôme supérieur in 1976. Further studies included Catholic church music in Düsseldorf and musicology in Bonn, where he was involved in the construction of a microtonal pipe organ with forty-eight tones per octave. Stamm’s compositions include works for organ, chamber music, orchestral works, fairy-tale operas and film music.
Toccata giocosa, written in 2009, weaves its tuneful and joyful way with a non-stop rhythmic pulse from the light and airy beginning through to the thunderous and triumphal ending.
Eugène Gigout followed Alexandre Guilmant as Professor of Organ at the Paris Conservatoire, as well as being organist at Saint-Augustin in Paris for most of his life.
His Toccata in B minor, from the Dix pièces of 1892, employs every trick of the trade generally found in the French organ toccata. This time, the musical tricks are used to thoroughly brilliant effect, sweeping the listener along to the final striking chords that round off this short, thrilling and riotous musical journey.
Johannes Brahms and his contemporary Schumann were aware of and strongly influenced by the newly re-discovered music of Bach. They both experimented with strict fugal writing for two hands and feet, conceived originally for the pedal piano, a standard piano with a pedal board connected to the hammers of the lowest two-and-a-half octaves. Although Brahms gave the manuscript of the G minor prelude and fugue to Clara Schumann in 1857, it had to wait seventy years before it was first printed as part of Breitkopf’s complete Brahms edition.
The prelude is made up mostly of sweeping virtuoso passages, punctuated twice by a dramatic short-phrased theme. The fugue, based on a bold four-bar subject, works its craggy way—at one point through a thicket of triplets and later through a maze of descending chromatic scales—towards a swirling final G major cadence. The present performer has taken modest liberties with Brahms’s pianistic writing.
Pietro Yon was Assistant Organist at the Vatican before moving in 1907 to the USA, where he held the organist posts at St Francis Xavier and then St Patrick’s Cathedral in New York. Much of his music remains unpublished, but the two concert studies, featuring virtuosic writing for the feet, hold their place in the repertoire of any organist willing and able to overcome their considerable technical demands.
Much of the Second concert study, dedicated in 1915 to Alberto Bimboni ‘con affetto e stima’, has the feet running chromatically in moto perpetuo against insistent counter-melodies characterized by a rising fourth in the hands. Suddenly the feet take over this rising-fourth melody, set against sweeping chromatic scales in the hands. The final section gives the melody back to the right hand, while the left hand plays trills and the feet feature glissandi up and eventually down the length of the pedal board.
The Norwegian composer Sverre Eftestøl studied piano and organ in Kristiansand and Oslo, and composition with George Crumb and Mauricio Kagel in Salzburg. Much of the inspiration behind his compositions comes from the rich traditions of folk music in southern Norway. His father, Trygve Eftestøl (1901-1993), was a folk fiddler who left behind more than 100 traditional melodies, slåttar (country airs) and sullar (lullabies).
This ‘Wedding march’, the second of four pieces in the first volume of På gamle tufter (‘On ancient ground’), was composed in 1982 and revised in 1988. It is strongly influenced by the spirit of these beautiful old tunes, alternating two dignified melodies—one broad and noble, the other slightly pensive and rustic. The march is frequently used, particularly in Norway, as a processional for the bride to enter or leave the church.
Christopher Herrick © 2021
Over the years, the current and former organists of Nidarosdomen have invited me back to Trondheim to give concerts, originally on the rather underpowered and incomplete 1930 Steinmeyer organ, positioned unsatisfactorily in front of the west wall during the 1960s. But after Ahrend’s masterly 1994 restoration of the cathedral’s older 1741 Wagner organ, Per Fridtjof Bonsaksen lured me back to make one of my Buxtehude recordings for Hyperion on this deliciously authentic baroque instrument. Per Fridtjof remained in post to see through the Kuhn restoration project, which has brought back the Steinmeyer to its full and complete 1930s glory, with 127 speaking stops and at least 9,725 pipes. The organ, with its amazing facade of open 32' pipes, is free-standing, allowing access through the great west door, and setting off and complementing the beautiful rose window to perfection. The console can be placed anywhere, whether for liturgical purposes or in full view for concerts.
Magne Harry Draagen, the present Director of Music, has invited me twice since its restoration in 2014 to play concerts on this wonderful instrument, to large and responsive audiences on Saturday nights (10pm) in midwinter. He has also been graciously enthusiastic for me to make this recording. During the sessions he was liberal with his time, tuning and re-tuning the organ, and generously sharing his expertise and musicianship to help me get the best out of one of Europe’s largest and most complex organs.
I confess that when I first played the newly restored Steinmeyer organ, I was merely expecting to have some fun on a seriously large organ, but I soon realized that, transfigured by Kuhn, it provided a whole lot more. In my opinion, it is an astonishingly expressive instrument, able to do justice in a truly musical way to a wide repertoire.
The album title Northern Lights is surely justified by Trondheim’s position 300 miles north of Norway’s capital city, Oslo. Also, four fine contemporary composers from Norway, Sweden and Denmark are represented in the programme. Sunrise is featured in two of the Danish hymn titles, and ‘Fiat lux’ translates as ‘Let there be light’. This is a wide-ranging programme designed to appeal to organ buffs, general music-lovers and, I hope, many people who have yet to experience the joys of listening to organ music. The programme is framed by Norwegian composers, with Takle’s energetic Yes! getting the proceedings off to a riotous start and Eftestøl’s wedding march leaving the listener with a delightful earworm!
Organ of Nidaros Cathedral, Trondheim, Norway
Steinmeyer (Oettingen, Germany, 1930); restoration by Orgelbau Kuhn AG (Männedorf, Switzerland, 2012-14)
Principal 1 8'
Principal 2 8'
Principal 3 8'
Flauto major 8'
Kvint 5 1/3'
Gross Ters 3 1/5'
Kvint 2 2/3'
Ters 1 3/5'
Cornet V 4'
Mixture VI 2'
Cymbel III 1'
Clairon harmonique 4'
Unda maris 8'
Kvint 2 2/3'
Ters 1 3/5'
Larigot 1 1/3'
Septim 1 1/7'
Mixtur IV 2'
Contra Fagott 16'
French Horn 8'
Principal major 8'
Principal minor 8'
Viola di Gamba 8'
Gamba celeste 8'
Voix céleste 8'
Flûte harmonique 4'
Kvint 2 2/3'
Ters 1 3/5'
Cornet V 8'
Plein jeu V 2 2/3'
Trompette harmonique 8'
Vox humana 8'
Harpe 8' (Tr.)
Harpe 4' (Tr.)
IV. FJERNVERK (ECHO)
Viola celeste 8'
Mixtur III 2 2/3'
Vox humana 8'
Pedalbourdon 16' (Tr.)
Tremolo (Vox humana)
Diapason Stentor 8'
Grossmixtur V 4'
Trompette orchestrale 8'
Cor de nuit 8'
Nasat 2 2/3'
Cymbel IV 1/2'
Principalbass 1 16'
Principalbass 2 16' (Tr.)
Contra Bass 16'
Bourdon 16' (Tr.)
Salicional 16' (Tr.)
Quintbass 10 2/3'
Principal 8' (Tr.)
Dulciana 8' (Tr.)
Kvint 5 1/3'
Ters 3 1/5'
Mixtur V 5 1/3'
Pedalcornet V 2 2/3'
Contra Bombarde 32'
Basstuba 16' (Tr.)
Fagot 16' (Tr.)
Ranket 16' (Tr.)
I-P, II-P, III-P, IV-P, Super II-P, Super III-P, II-I, III-I, IV-I, Sub II-I, Super II-I, Sub III-I, Super III-I, Sub IV-I, Super IV-I, III-II, IV-II, Sub II, Super II, Sub III-II, Super III-II, Sub IV-II, Super IV-II, Unison II off, IV-III, Sub III, Super III, Sub IV-III, Super IV-III, Unison III off, Sub IV, Super IV, RP-P, RP-I, RP-II, RP-III
Christopher Herrick © 2021