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Brahms: Complete Organ Works - Horsch

Brahms: Complete Organ Works - Horsch

CPO  777 384-2

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Instrumental


Brahms: Chorale Prelude & Fugue on "O Traurigkeit, o Herzeleid" WoO. 7, Prelude & Fugue WoO. 9 & 10, Fugue WoO. 8, 11 Chorale Preludes Op. Posth. 122

Anne Horsch (organ)


Brahms’s Organ Works on SACD

St. Rupert’s Catholic Parish Church in Munich is home to one of the few surviving Maerz organs. The recent restoration of this marvelous gem of late-romantic organ design to its 1907 operating standards means that it now may be heard in its original splendor of sound. The young organist Anne Horsch, who studied in Munich under Prof. Lehrndorfer and in Prof. Harald Feller’s master class and later successfully continued her studies in France, performs Brahms’s complete organ works. His preludes and fugues of particular interest as contrapuntal studies and his eleven chorale preludes regarded as masterpieces in this genre and revealing the composer’s genius in all its perfection are heard in SACD quality.

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Review by John Miller - April 7, 2009

Anne Horsch plays the complete Brahms organ works on a Maerz instrument from 1887, quite a rare German late Romantic organ which began life in Munich's Odeon, a concert hall where Brahms, Schumann, Mahler and Rheinberger performed. It was moved to St Rupert's Catholic Church in the city during 1905, and later received some extra ranks. After a period of neglect it was restored at the end of the C20th to its 1907 condition.

Brahms, as part of his life-long scholarship in the field of music history, became very familiar with the organ in the early stages of his career when playing his beloved JS Bach. At the same time he met the Schumanns. In 1885 he also engaged in counterpoint studies with the great teacher and violinist Joseph Joachim. During this period a number of organ works were composed, of which only a small group have survived to be published posthumously (Chorale Prelude & Fugue on "O Traurigkeit, o Herzeleid" WoO. 7, Prelude & Fugue WoO. 9 & 10, Fugue WoO. 8). Robert Schumann died in 1856, and Brahms wrote "O Traurigkeit" for his funeral.

40 years later, at the end of his career, he picked up the organ again in 1896, writing a set of 11 Chorale Preludes Op. Posth. 122. Again this was associated with the Schumanns, specifically the death of Clara, who had been his secret and probably unrequited love for many years. In his haste to attend her funeral in Bonn he picked up the fever which revealed his fatal liver cancer. Thus much of the extant organ works are associated with the loss of love and friendship, which makes their often deeply meditative and tragic character a challenge for interpreters. It also has to be said that these works would not easily be recognised by listeners who know Brahms only from his orchestral works, although pianists might spot them. All the works are predominantly contrapuntal, and the early group in particular show him exploring quite extreme forms of chromatic harmony in a very Lisztian way.

Anne Horsch is immediately at a disadvantage with the church building and her recording engineers. The church has multiple reflections which build up alarmingly to high volumes, and a reverberation time of 6-8 seconds. Microphones were placed fairly close to the organ (probably in an effort to overcome this), but they pick up very audible rumble from the blowers, and there is also a notable hiss of escaping wind, so the recording has quite a high noise floor. The Prelude and Fugue in G minor WoO 10, for example, begins with a superficially spectacular blaze of fiery reeds and deep pedals, but quickly develops into a series of messy splashes of sound, with most of the passage work and certainly the inner parts blurred or obscured. Some of the organ's solo stops also have minor tuning/voicing issues, with some notes having noticeable beats.

Brahms scores are very conservative, mostly written on 2 staves only, with almost no indications of registrations, except instructions to play on Manual 1 or Manual 2. Therefore interpreters have considerable potential latitude for choosing tone colours. However, many of them elect to use fairly subdued colours (e.g. the well-regarded Kevin Bowyer on RBCD), reflecting the contemplative nature of the music. Anne Horsch, however, attempts to use a greater variety of solo stops, but these do not often blend, leaving one voice overly dominant. Furthermore, she has a tendency to use 16' tone in many of her pedal registrations, which also dominates and contributes to the murky acoustics. Her tempi are almost all slower than Bowyer's, presumably in reaction to the reverberant sound. This reverberation is of course most vivid in multichannel mode, and less so in stereo, although even there the textures eventually coalesce.

CPO have produced an attractively designed package with good notes in German, English and French, and a full specification of the organ. The organ, however, may well have sounded far better in the building for which it was made, and its divorce has produced an excellent recording only of how it now sounds in St Rupert's. Perhaps "sweet" microphone locations could be found, but on this disc both the organ sound and the music suffer. Schmeding's disc (Brahms: Complete Organ Works - Schmeding) is much to be preferred.

Copyright © 2009 John Miller and HRAudio.net

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