GMCD 7309 – Symphonic Organ – Music by Helmschrott, Hakim, Messiaen

Franz Hauk at the Great Klais Organ of Liebfrauenmünster Ingolstadt

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Musica Sacra Juli / August 2008

Mit dem Reizwort „Symphonische Orgel” wird hier ein interessantes, symmetrisch konzipiertes Programm mit zwischen 1934 und 2001 entstande­nen Werken angepriesen, obwohl die Orgelwelt sich unter „Symphonische Orgel” inzwischen wohl ein ande­res Klangbild vorstellt, als es die In­golstädter Klais-Orgel aus dem Jahre 1977 aufbietet. Deren scharfen Mixtu­ren und plärrenden Zungen integrieren sich zudem oft schlecht in den Gesamt­klang. Je zwei jüngere Werke von Naji Hakim (*1955) und Robert M. Helmschrott (*1938) vor dem Hintergrund der zwi­schen ihnen erklingenden L’Ascension von Messiaen zu präsentieren, macht tiefen Sinn wegen dessen klar ersicht­licher Vorbildfunktion in geist­licher wie musikalischer Hinsicht. Aus dem Rahmen fällt ein bisschen Hakims ziemlich weltlich anmutende Ouvertüre Libanaise (2001) zu Be­ginn, ein starker Kontrast zu Helm­schrotts Furioso Infernal, exzentrische Umsetzung des De-profundis­Schreis mit voll ausgeloteter Orgel. Polares Gegenüber hierzu ist Helm­schrotts Dans la lumiere (1993), eine fantastische Licht-Meditation mit minutiös ausgearbeiteten Klangeffekten und stupender, ekstatischer Toccata als zweitem Teil. Bewundernswert ist das hoch virtuose Spiel von Franz Hauk, der teilweise auch Inspirator und Auf­traggeber dieser Werke für die Ingol­städter Orgeltage war. Es mangelt ihm aber offensichtlich an einem Sensorium dafür, dass Staccato-Spiel in Ver­bindung mit solchen Mixturklängen eine Aggressivität erzeugt, die zwar beim De-profundis-Schrei authen­tisch, bei einer „Preiset-den-Herrn”­Ekstase aber abstoßend wirkt, zumal beim CD-Anhören der große Kirchen­raum fehlt, den man als Auffangbe­cken dafür dringend nötig hat.

American Record Guide September/October

auk is organist and choirmaster at Ingolstadt Minster, the site of this recording, which dates
from 1997 to 2001. The instrument is a 4-106 Klais (1977). This recording, superbly engi­neered by Guild, will doubtless appeal mostly to organists. The sheer density of much of the music heard will dismay most others. One can hardly perceive any consonance in the compo­sitions by Robert Helmschrott (b.1938). Both his pieces overwhelm the listener with thick, heavy dissonance that goes on and on (about 15 min­utes each). There are brief moments when this ceases and quiet prevails-but too brief. These works are clearly of unbelievable difficulty.
Hakim’s opening overture uses Lebanese folk tunes. Unfortunately, none are printed in the liner notes to help listeners follow. There is a jaunty air about the opening pages, enhanced by the oriental scales and theater-organ quality of the writing. This is a light-hearted composi­tion. His Pange Lingua settings take the form of six variations, brief and easy to follow. Messi­aen’s familiar work is heard to good effect, enhanced by the reverberation in this church. But that can also affect clarity. In the brilliant ‘Transports de Joie’ Hauk handles the prickly technical challenges easily, but the interpreta­tion seems too measured or studied.

Church Music Quarterly June 2007

The Klais organ of the Liebfrauenmünster, Ingolstadt

Once the package of CDs for review has dropped an the mat, it’s tough deciding which CD to listen to first, but this recording of Works by Naji Hakim, Heimschrott and Messiaen caught my eye because of the picture of a bright mosaic (by Julian Modica) on the front. Ouverture Libanaise, Hakim’s musical description of his native country, provides a sprightly opening; according to the programme notes the piece is based on Lebanese folk melodies. If that’s the  case then either the plainsong `Ubi Caritas’ is one of them, or Hakim and Pope Gregory are compatriots. By contrast, Helmschrott’s Furioso infernal- a symphonic fantasy- is hellish and tough going! Messiaen’s L’Ascension is quite tame by comparison. The instrument is a four manual Klais instrument but very different from the instrument built by the same firm in Bath Abbey; there is a splendid continental tone, and the recording gives that vital sense of space.

International Record Review, March 2007

This is a disc of uncompromising organ sound, overwhelming virtuosity and music which, with the exception of the great Messiaen cycle, seems hell-bent an creating an impression. Certainly in the case of the two Hakim works, both written for the Ingolstadt organ, there’s very little to get one’s teeth into beyond the sheer spectacle of the organ sound. Ouverture Libanaise seems a mite too exuberant and showy for its own good, with great outbursts of flamboyance like lashings of artificial cream on a stale cake. Franz Hauk’s own booklet note insists that the work is based an Lebanese folk melodies, but if somebody had devised a fun-fair attraction, complete with steam organ, called ‘The Ride of the Valkyries’, I suspect it would come out very much like this (even down to that sense of nausea engendered by so many violent changes of speed and direction). Pange lingua, a series of six short preludes based an Gregorian chants, also seems to strive after effect at the expense of anything musically worthwhile.

Much the same could be said of Helmschrott’s Furioso Infernal, which over an interminable quarter-of-an-hour punches out great fistfuls of organ sound, rescued from arterial-blocking stodginess only by the presence of some glittering high mixtures. However, it is Ingolstadt’s glorious Klais which saves the day in Helmschrott’s distinctly Messiaenic Dans la lumiere. This, also, was written for the Ingolstadt organ and it’s difficult to imagine it sounding so effective in any other setting. From the little pin-pricks of light which the organ so magically evokes at the start, to the final dazzling toccata, we have a simply aweinspiring exhibition of the range and power of the instrument. The recording (made by Jonathan Wearn some ten years ago) captures it all with a wonderful spaciousness.

Unquestionably, this is an exceptional instrument. If it sounded awesome in Dans la lumiere it is simply stupendous in Messiaen’s L’Ascension. Never have I heard the closing bars of `Alleluias sereins’ so truly celestial; never have the `Transports de joie’ thundered out so ecstatically. In terms of sheer organ sound alone, Michael Ponder has produced

an exceptional recording. There’s no question, too, but that Hauk is a truly brilliant player, and his Messiaen is probably more precise and faithful to the letter and detail of the score than any. Perhaps, though, it’s a little too neat and precise. There’s a sense that every rhythmic nuance has been measured with mathematical precision and that every tiny detail of phrasing and articulation has been painstakingly thought through to give us a performance which is totally flawless but lacking in spontaneity. There’s certainly room for such a technically immaculate performance in the catalogue, but set against the profoundly spiritual approach of Olivier Latry, the incense-laden atmosphere of Notre Dame only adding to the impression of deep mysticism, or the extraordinary intellectual strength and real sense of inner conviction of Gillian Weir’s (to my mind) matchless recording, it lacks that inspirational element which no amount of brilliant organ Sound or dazzling virtuosity can fully convey.
Marc Rochester