Yup! Yet another new CD! (#305, if you were wondering!) This one is performed by Ann Elise Smoot on two historical Silbermann organs in the Alsace region in France. Recorded by Christoph Martin Frommen and released by JAV Recordings, the sound of the two featured instruments played by Ms. Smoot is just gorgeous!
I have previously written about the Silbermann organ in the Abbey Church in Ebersmunster, so I’ll invite you to read that post for information and pictures of that organ. (click here)
The two organs are build in the French technique but also bear lots of German influence as well. The CD is a great testament to the Slibermann Family and these two instruments. Ann Elise Smoot chooses a program of music on this CD that effectively shows those French and German influences in both instruments.
The first half of this album is performed on the Ebersmunster organ. Ms. Smoot plays the Suite du Premier Ton from Livre d’orgue by Louis-Nicolas Clérambault, two pieces by Georg Muffat, and Präludium, Fuge und Postludium by Georg Böhm. From the first few notes of the opening track (the Grand plein Jeux of the Suite), this organ clearly shows us its French side with its brilliant principals and mixtures. Clérambault’s Suite is very much at home on this instrument. A highlight for me as well is that until now I have had virtually no recordings of an of Clérambault’s works in my CD collection, including the piece I have played before, the Basse et Dessus de Trompette. The reeds on this organ in particular and very French Classic – no mistake – and dominate the ensemble of stop on this organ.
To show of the German side of this CD are the works by Muffat and Böhm. I’ve heard of Georg Muffat before but until today have had absolutely no recordings of the music of this old German composer. His works are quite colorful. The Toccata decima I think presents a work of mixed styles and from Ms. Smoot’s notes in the album it’s a no wonder why. Seems that Mr. Muffat live in Alsace, but also in Bravaria, Vienna, Prague, and not the least of these, Rome. Indeed this work does display a bit of that Italian influence as well. But I much prefer the charming Ciacona that Muffat wrote.
I’ve heard Böhm’s Präludium, Fuge und Postludium before, but on the Müller organ in Haarlem, the Netherlands. Here is it presented in a very French manner with its whole chordal opening played using almost a grand jeux registration which works rather well. The piece (obviously) is very episodic and from this opening there is a short intro to the fuge – which honestly in its style is more French than I thought listening to it on the Müller organ. I’ve always enjoyed this work.
This brings us to the second half of the Album and to St. Thomas in Strasbourg. This organ was built in 1741 by Johann Andrea son of Andrea Silbermann, and like the organ at Ebersmunster shows a French/German influence, but this time more leaning toward the German aesthetic. Its reeds, while of French quality are somewhat less fiery than its Ebersmuster counterpart, and its principal and flutes I think have more of the German quality too them as well, all of which comes across quite nicely in the choice of music. Again Ms. Smoot chooses a program on this instrument that showcases its bi-lingual qualities.
Ms. Smoot starts off with Clérambault’s second suite, Suite du Deuxième Ton, of which the first piece features the principals and mixtures in a plein Jeux. Kind of a fun thing in iTunes to listen to the opening of the first suite and then immediately the opening of the second, it gives you a better idea of the tonal differences of the two instruments. I find the second suite is an “easier” listen and I like more of the pieces contained in it.
For a German selection Böhm’s Vater unser im Himmelreich is a very good selection. I love the principal stops in this recording! And with the theme played out on a nasard, this piece is quite lovely! This is followed by an interesting selection, Ms. Smoot presents Aria, which is a transcription of a piece by Fran attributed to Bach. Again the organ shines in this recording. The flute used is just beautiful. And I think unmistakably French.
Now for one of my most favorite pieces by Bach. The Passicaglia, BWV 582 is one piece that I have hear countless times and never grow tired of. At the basic level it is a theme with variations. For the most part the”theme” is in the bass line and remains in the pedal (with exceptions of course!) with very elaborite variations on the manuals. Here the organ gives away it’s French influence a bit. So used to hearing this played on German styled organs, I can’t but help feel this piece is just a little “out of place” here. But that’s what makes these organs so interesting! Because it’s not completely out of place either, there is that German face too…
All said and done, this CD is a great CD and coming from JAV Recordings – my expectations are always HIGH. And my expectations are meet. Ms. Smoot presents a very interesting program of music with music I’ve never heard before this CD. And the dual “citizenship” of the organs is really what is on display here. It’s a treat! And sonically speaking the organs are captured so wonderfully! It’s truly amazing to listen to these old instruments, having survived so much history. I’m in love with these organs…