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Playing The Old Music – Now An Then


sprondel
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The question was raised in the GDB topic, but gained quite some momentum of its own, so let me start a spin-off topic here.

 

Malcolm Kemp asked:

"... but I still find that Walcha and Heiller inspire me in a way that van Oortmerrson and Koopman do not. Perhaps I am just getting old. What do others think?"

 

As for Koopman, he just raises my blood pressure to dangerous levels, even in his recordings – something quite remarkable in its own right –, so that I have to stop listening after a short while. I decided not to listen to him any more.

 

Jacques van Ootmerssen's recent Bach recordings I found very good – well-chosen tempi, nicely breathing phrasing, noble articulation, and a true sense for the respective organs and their sounds.

 

About Walcha, I find it remarkable how every voice sings, and how he never disturbs the grand pace of the music. I needed some time, however, to discover these qualities in the recordings, because they are the opposite of spectacular – you need to open your ears wide and to join into the singing. As regards registration and articulation, the recordings avoid extremes of any kind – as long as you regard a playing based on seamless legato not an extreme, that is.

 

Another player I found quite compelling is Leonid Roizman, teacher of most Russian organists touring the globe today. His 1960 Bach recordings are currently reissued on CD (Melodia), one by one. They were taken on the Cavaillé-Coll-Mutin organ of Moscow conservatory (the one you see on all the Horovitz Covers). The playing is flawless, majestic and overwhelmingly disciplined. By going at very steady paces and using incredibly long-reaching phrasing, he manages to build up even the longest pieces – the F Major toccata, the Passacaglia – as large units. These recordings are definitely worth listening to. I had to review them together with Jacques van Ootmerssen's, and found them not as distant from each other as one might expect.

 

Best,

Friedrich

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One of my favourite LPs 40 years ago was of Anton Heiller playing the "Wedge" P&F and the P&F in A major from Maria Kyrke, Halsingborg, Sweden.

I still have that, and the one of four organ concerti, and a third with I can't remember what on. Those LPs defined my benchmark for Bach playing - in particular managing to maintain a rock-steady rhythm, yet without becoming "sewing machine". Rogg's Bach (the original Zurich Grossmunster set) I only have a sampler of, but I was irritated by the fussily literal 2 against 3 in a trio sonata movement rather than the natural assimilation of triplet rhythms - however, Rogg's Hindemith on the same organ is in my view the best I've heard.

 

Paul

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I agree, those Heiller recordings are the work of a genius. Its interesting to note that while Heiller spawned (is that a fair comment? Maybe Fiffaro can comment?) a Vienna dynasty including, most notably, Radulescu and now, subsequently Peretti, he was also enormously influential in the Netherlands through his teaching at the Haarlem summer academy. I think its fair to say that AH was the idol of Jacques van Oortmerssen for instance (I remember JvO saying that he had never seen a better organist). Jacques's way of playing is very much linked to those Heiller recordings, in terms of tempi and feeling for affekt (Heiller is the polar opposite of Hurford for example, and was ultimately far more influential).

 

For my feeling, Heiller was the most important Bach player of his generation.

 

My favourite Bach recording of 'our' time is this one:

 

http://www.gothic-catalog.com/Bach_One_of_...p/lrcd-1025.htm

 

but I doubt anyone else here knows it. Or?

 

Bazuin

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Bazuin - I'm so glad to read your comments above. I was afraid I would be "a voice crying in the wilderness" over Heiller and it's good to find that I am not. What surprises me is that until I mentioned him earlier today I don't think I've ever come across mention of Heiller's Bach recordings on this Forum.

 

I've just bought (from E-Bay again) a replacement copy of another Bach organ LP that I first bought 40 or more years ago. This time it's Michael Schneider at Luneberg. It will be interesting to find my initial reaction to hearing that again after so many years.

 

One of the most important lessons I've learned in recent years from such eminent teachers as William Whitehead and Mark Wardell is the importance of the integrity of the music one is playing and I think that is what most of the comments on this topic are getting at. This Forum has become a bit dull recently and it's suddenly become interesting again!

 

Malcolm

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I've just bought (from E-Bay again) a replacement copy of another Bach organ LP that I first bought 40 or more years ago. This time it's Michael Schneider at Luneberg.

Is that the one with the Toccatas and Fugues in D minor, F major and C major? A wonderful LP. Sadly I wore my copy out years ago.

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I must confess I don't have any Heiller recordings but I have heard some of his recordings through Pipedreams. An inspiring player.

 

I'm just going to take some of Malcolm's points (if he doesn't mind) from the GDB topic for a bit of discussion:

 

"Perhaps in those days players were less fanatical about proving a historical point and more ocncerned about being musical, than some of the more recent players we have been discussing on this topic."

 

Well, isn't it interesting that those famous recordings by Walcha, Rogg and Heiller were some of the first to be made on historic organs - Alkmaar and the Andreas Silbermann organ at Strasbourg spring to mind immediately. They were breaking new ground discovering the sounds of old organs and re-evaluating the way they played Bach &c. Isn't what has followed - e.g. JvO, PDP, etc - evolution on from these trail blazers?

 

"Perhaps those more recent players would not have reached the point they are at without Walcha, Heiller and even Rogg coming first."

 

Absolutely Yes!! Each generation, especially in this field of playing learns and evolves from the previous generation...

 

"Fashions come and go, as do ideas of historical accuracy..."

 

Totally. Now we consider builders like Hildebrandt to be closer to the style of organ Bach knew... the ideas are constantly evolving as new discoveries are made and previous assumptions are challenged... Exactly the same picture can be seen with physics, especially in the late 19C, 20C, as the ideas of quantum mechanics developed. It wasn't an overnight discovery: each generation of scientists experimented, tested, developed and sometimes challenged the ideas developed from previous work, to develop the knowledge we have today. And still today, the ideas are discussed, re-evaluated, added to and challenged. We're still aware our knowledge is incomplete.

 

" but I still find that Walcha and Heiller inspire me in a way that van Oortmerrson and Koopman do not."

 

I think the early recordings had an impact that diminished for the recordings by succeeding generations. When Walcha & co. made their ground-breaking first recordings, the excitement of listening to Bach played on period organs for the first time must have been palpable. As a result of the impact of these ground-breaking recordings, our palettes are more refined and discerning than ever before. We're used to - almost expect - new recordings of Bach or Buxtehude to be on historically appropriate organs, played in an historically informed manner. Listeners today would laugh if someone released a new recording of Bach's organ music on a 1930s HNB with Tubas and Full Swell. As we're more discerning and knowledgeable than before, the impact of a new Bach recording is going to be listened to more critically than before.

 

When I now listen to Walcha or Hurford today, I hear things things a modern "historically informed" player wouldn't do (e.g. registration changes in odd places). Conversely, I hear things that Walcha & co don't do that I would anticipate a modern player would do, like certain articulations, pointings of rhythms, etc.

 

One player no-one's mentioned yet is Gustav Leonhardt. I've always enjoyed his ground breaking recordings of South German and Alpine organs.

 

BTW, I've also got some LPs of Flor Peeters playing at Marekerk, Leiden, Bonifactuskerk, Medemblik, Oosthuizen, and Haringe and a recording of the Chaumont suites played at St Maximin Thioville (very outrageous seven tower case) - which seems to have won the Grand Prix National Du Disque in 1971 from Ministere de la Culture. They've never been played. What should I do with them? Obviously, I'm not selling them...

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I am pretty much in agreement with Colin. One of the things that slightly surprised me when listening yesterday to the Heiller records for the first time in several decades was the number of times I felt he was not articulating something that I expected him to.

 

These people were pioneers and I recall how excited and renewed my first serious organ teacher was by all this (and he was by then a man in his sixties who had been a pupil of Atkins at Worcester and Brewer at Gloucester).

 

Perhaps our attitudes are not unlike those relating to liturgical reform in church. We started out with these pioneers of reform and historicity, took it all to fanatical and illogical extremes and, hopefully, we are now being more balanaced and sensible about it, helped by the benefit of hindsight and the mistakes of others. Perhaps that is how humanity progresses. Who knows how future generations will judge us? After all, in England we had Ralph Downes and we had people trying to turn every English romantic organ they could get their hands on into pseudo-Baroque squeak boxes. I am happy to think of current projects such as the new organ at Llandaff. I ask myself whether today Downes would be able to get away doing what he did at Gloucester. I think there is cause for optimism and I think this Forum (and probably others like it) helps the cause immensely.

 

Malcolm

 

Malcolm

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I agree, those Heiller recordings are the work of a genius. Its interesting to note that while Heiller spawned (is that a fair comment? Maybe Fiffaro can comment?) a Vienna dynasty including, most notably, Radulescu and now, subsequently Peretti, he was also enormously influential in the Netherlands through his teaching at the Haarlem summer academy.

 

Bazuin

Three of the now senior, most influential teachers in Australia studied with Heiller, and these teachers ended up in three of our largest cities - David Rumsey (Sydney, now Switzerland celbrated his 70th birthday yesterday), Douglass Lawrence in Melbourne and Christa Rumey in Adelaide (just retired to Tasmania).

 

I'm of the generation following that, having studied with one of these teachers and then having spent time with Radulescu. Brett Leighton (Linz) is another that followed this path, and Christopher Wrench (Brisbane) also studied with Radulescu.

 

Heiller was also very influential in the USA, and taught many students from there. (Remember, for example, the Anton Heiller Memorial Organ at Southern Missionary College where the organist is Judy Glass, one of Heiller's students.)

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I think the development of historically informed playing is not as chaotic as has been made out. Inevitably some of the playing from the first wave of the organ reform movement was more influential than others. It is little wonder though that the most influential players were the ones who had contact either with historic organs in their own countries or with the very best of the modernist instruments. Interesting that Heiller recorded on a Zachariasson/Marcussen from the brief period when Denmark (mostly for economic reasons after the war) was leading the organ-reform movement (this was over by 1960!).

 

""Perhaps in those days players were less fanatical about proving a historical point and more ocncerned about being musical, than some of the more recent players we have been discussing on this topic."

 

This is true only in the sense that the knowledge was more limited - the period in question was one of theories (some would say dogmas) rather than applied scholarship. This is seen both in organ building (think Haarlem or even New College Oxford which started the discussion - that organ obeys every one of the neo-baroque dogmas!) and organ playing, the two phenomena being completely inter-related.

 

"One player no-one's mentioned yet is Gustav Leonhardt."

 

His 1970s recording in the Waalse Kerk remain as fresh and relevant today as when they were made. And this was someone born in the 1920s... Leonhardt was always a scholar, he never blindly subscribed to 'theories'.

 

My first music teacher was a student of Michael Schneider incidentally. He was an extraordinary player!

 

Bazuin

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