BRUHNS & SCHEIDEMANN Orgelværker
24 June 2016
American Record Guide
William J Gatens
This program combines all of the surviving organ works by Nicolaus Bruhns (1665–1697) with a cross section of the far more numerous organ works by Heinrich Scheidemann (c1595–1663). Together these composers represent the earliest and latest phases of the 17th-Century North German school of organ playing and composition. The best-known exponent of the style was Dietrich Buxtehude.
Scheidemann was the son of the organist at St Katharine’s Church, Hamburg. The church paid for the younger Scheidemann’s studies in Amsterdam with Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck, who was indisputably the most celebrated organist and organ teacher in northern Europe at the time and the predominant influence on the emerging North German school. Indirectly, Sweelinck transmitted the influence of the Italian masters, above all Frescobaldi, and the florid idiom of the English virginalists. All of this can be heard in the Scheidemann pieces here. He eventually succeeded his father as organist of St Katharine’s.
Bruhns came from a musical family in Schleswig. In 1681 he went to Lübeck, where he studied with Buxtehude, who was the strongest influence on his style. He later studied with Johann Lorentz in Copenhagen. Bruhns was appointed organist at Husum in 1689 and remained there for the rest of his short career. A mere handful of organ works by him survive. There are two Preludes in E minor, customarily called the Little and Great owing to their difference in length. There are also Preludes in G and G minor and a substantial chorale fantasia on ‘Nun Komm, der Heiden Heiland’. A fragmentary Adagio movement completes the list.
Although Bruhns predeceased Buxtehude Bine Bryndorf, in her notes to this recording, claims that he developed the idiom beyond the style of his mentor, specifically in the use of double pedal, more extensive solo use of the pedal division, and a greater rhythmic complexity in his writing. Both Bruhns and Buxtehude were exponents of the Stylus Phantasticus, a rhapsodic style of writing involving rapid scales and other keyboard figures, massive chords, and virtuosic use of the pedals. The North German organ prelude was a multi-sectional genre alternating Stylus Phantasticus and other chordal idioms with sections of imitative writing.
Scheidemann’s preludes involve the alternation of chordal and imitative styles, but not the fully-fledged Stylus Phantasticus. His chorale fantasia on ‘Jesus Christus, unser Heiland’, like Bruhns’s ‘Nun Komm’, is a spacious work that explores the implications of the chorale melody at some length. ‘Dic Nobis Maria’ is the intabulation of a 1598 motet by Giovanni Bassano. Scheidemann supplies florid elaboration of the vocal lines in a style that recalls the English virginalists.
The instrument heard here is the organ of Roskilde Cathedral. It includes four ranks of pipes by Herman Raphaelis, dating from 1555. A century later the instrument was rebuilt by Gregor Mülisch, who died while the work was in progress. It was completed by Peter Botz of Viborg in 1655 as an instrument of three manuals and 29 stops. Some unsatisfactory modifications and enlargements were made in the 19th and early 20th Centuries. The most recent restoration was carried out between 1988 and 1991 by Marcussen under the supervision of Cor Edskes with the intention of returning the instrument to its 1655 specification.
The recorded sound is very agreeable. There is warmth and refinement in the tone with a well-integrated ensemble and attractive solo colors. The recording seems to have been made at a respectful distance, but not at the expense of clarity or imposing power where needed.
Bine Bryndorf is a professor at the Royal Danish Academy of Music and an organist at Trinity Church, Copenhagen. Her playing here is eminently musical, not an academic exercise in period technique at the expense of artistic sense - as we too often hear in recordings of early organ music. She clearly understands the musical rhetoric of the Stylus Phantasticus as evidenced by her flexibility in tempo. Without such an understanding, the fits and starts of that rhapsodic style can easily sound arbitrary. Some years ago I was quite impressed with the 6th volume in her recording of the organ works of Buxtehude (Dacapo 6.220530; M/J 2008) for the same reasons. Earlier volumes in that series were favorably noticed by David Mulbury and Ralph Blakely (M/J 2004; N/D 2004; S/O 2007).