GMCD 7290 – 19th Century Organ and Choral Music

Ursina Caflisch – Organ

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Most of this CD is devoted to the organ music of lesser-known contemporaries of the nineteenth-century composer Josef Rheinberger who were either born or worked in Switzerland. The music is sumptuously Romantic, and reminiscent of composers such as Liszt and Max Reger. The CD opens with a sonata by Forchhammer, subtitled `For a burial ceremony’ which might seem off-putting. By and large though the work is anything but funereal. Other composers featured include Theodor Kirchner who is believed to have had an affair with Clara Schumann.

The Organist, Ursina Caflisch, is based at Zurich Conservatoire and Academy of Music & Theatre, and she plays here a modern 26 stop two-manual instrument based on Swiss organ design of the mid nineteenth century. It is well suited to the music of the period. After 50 minutes of clean solo-organ playing, Ms Caflisch then accompanies the almost 4o-strong Cantus Firmus for a pleasant and able performance of Rheinberger’s Mass in F minor.

Presumably this CD was intended for Guild’s Swiss market, and would not perhaps appear at the top of your `must buy’ list unless you are a Romantic organ music aficionado or specialist.

Schweizer Musikzeitung, 09.09.2006

Organ & Choral Music 19th Century

Organ & Choral Music. Werke v. Theophil Forchhammer, Theodor Kirchner, Benedict Jucker, Rheinberger. Ursina Caflisch (Org.), Cantus firmus, Clau Scherrer (Cond.). Orgel der katholischen Pfarrkirche Ilanz. Guild GMCD 7290.

Un disque de découvertes passionnantes que celui-ci. La musique romantique germanique dévolue à l’orgue recoit souvent les qualificatifs de lourde, austère et ennuyeuse. L’organiste Ursina Caflisch propose de revoir ce type de jugement hâtif en nous faisant faire connaissance de Theophil Forchhammer (1847-1923), Theodor Kirchner (1823-1903) et BenediktJucker(1811-1876).

Du compositeur suisse Forchhammer, l’organiste interprète d’abord la deuxième sonate «zur Todtenfeier ». Bâtie sur le « Victimae Paschali laudes », on y sent 1’ombre de Bach, bien que 1’écriture soit résolument romantique. L’interprète en fait ressortir l’architec-ture avec un art consommé des plans sonores et des magnifiques registrations que permet le très bel orgue de la paroisse catholique d’Ilanz. Suivent deux magnifiques chorals du même compositeur. Le cantus firmus y est entouré de suaves chromatismes qui renouvellent agréablement le genre. Là aussi, 1’organiste nous fait découvrir toutes les subtilités de son instrument avec un réel bonheur.

Presque totalement tombé dans 1’oubli, déjà de son vivant, Kirchner fut pourtant un compositeur prolifique. On dénombre environ mille piéces pour piano. L’influence de Schumann et de Brahms y est évidente, mais aussi celle de Liszt et de Wagner. Ce disque vient donc à point nommé pour nous faire découvrir sept miniatures qui valent le détour. Les préludes de choral de Jucker présentent un compositeur plein de grâce et d’élégance, mais qui ne tombe jamais dans 1’effet facile.

Seul compositeur connu de cet enregistrement, Josef Gabriel Rheinberger y est représenté par sa Messe en fa mineur op 159. Les voix de Cantus Firmus s’allient aux doigts d’Ursina Caflisch pour notre plus grand bonheur. Le Chef Clau Scherrer conduit cette musique en impliquant sa passion au détour de chaque phrase. Les voix sont magnifiquement timbrées (mention spéciale aux ténors). Il n’y a aucune surcharge, le choeur est parfaitement homogène. La prononciation idoine pour cette musique du latin «alla tedesca» ajoute un plus à la parfaite diction.  Thierry Dagon

MusicWeb Wednesday January 25 06

A successful anthology of lesser-known Swiss Nineteenth Century Organ and Choral Music …
A word of clarification, or a narrowing of the geographic range, is necessary here. Of the four composers on this Guild CD, Jucker and Forchhammer are Swiss-born, Kirchner is a German who spent many years in Switzerland and Rheinberger is a German born in Lichtenstein. Except for the Mass by Rheinberger, all the works are for organ alone, ably played by the Zurich organist and teacher Ursina Caflisch. The organ works are further joined together, especially in the cases of Forchhammer and Jucker, by a use of Baroque forms and practice, treated in a Lisztian manner.

A twenty-five minute organ sonata may not be to everyone’s taste, especially one that is subtitled “For a Funeral Service’. But this piece by a Swiss organist-composer well-known in his time is far from gloomy, starting out with a heroic introduction and then proceeding through a lengthy first movement partially based on the chorale ‘Jesus, mein Zuversicht”, which is also set by Forchhammer as one of the two chorale arrangements accompanying the sonata on this disc. The second movement is a quiet, Bach-like interlude, with parts of the chorale ‘Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme’ appearing, before leading directly into the third movement, which also utilizes this chorale and leads to a cyclic finale that is both impressive and touching. This is a discovery worth hearing again.

Unlike Forchhammer, Theodor Kirchner is still remembered today, especially in Switzerland, where he spent thirty years, for his lyrical and effective miniatures for piano and organ and his songs. He also wrote some important chamber works, which have been surprisingly well-covered by the record companies. Here we have six excerpts from a collection of organ works published in 1890, although some date from earlier in his career. These are in the same tradition of late 19th/early 20th century organ music as the smaller works of Vierne or Arthur Foote and are equally attractive. All are amiable and charming, with tracks 10 and 12 being somewhat more substantial. Kirchner is not afraid to make the organ sound as lyrical as the piano or the human voice, without forgetting the characteristics unique to the instrument.

Although I found the Jucker pieces not as attractive as Kirchner’s, organist Ursina Caflisch really is at her best when playing them. Jucker was the organist at Basle Catheldral in the mid-19th century and is best known today for his Fantasie und Fuge uber das thema B-A-C-H, which as been recorded in recent years. In each of the three Choral-Preludes recorded here Jucker does interesting things with the chorale melody, putting it mostly in the pedals in No. 2 or barely letting it appear in No. 7. This is well-wrought music, ably using Baroque conventions, but not nearly as moving as the Kirchner or Rheinberger selections.

Rheinberger is of course the best known of the disc’s four composers. Here we have one of his half-dozen or so masses accompanied by organ, with Ms. Caflisch accompanying. Rheinberger is sometimes claimed or acclaimed as a proponent of the 19th century Cecilian movement in Catholic liturgical composition, but while definitely influenced by this movement, his masses vary in how much they adhere to its principles.

This particular mass, in F-minor, seems to be more or less in the middle. It is simple, clear and reverential, but not lacking drama. The most beautiful sections are in the Sanctus and the Agnus Dei. This mass has been recorded before by Wolfgang Schaefer and the Frankfurt Kantorei and one’s choice of recording may come down to the accompanying selections on the two discs. The recently formed Cantus Firmus under Clau Scherrer seem to be coming together well, although the Pfarrkirche is not perfectly suited to this type of choral music.

Ursina Caflisch has been the organist of the NeuMunsterkirche in Zurich since 1982. She has made recordings of organ music by Brahms, Rheinberger, Franck, Vierne as well as recordings of twentieth century Swiss music. She naturally has a complete understanding of the solo works on this CD at the same time that she effectively accompanies the group Cantus Firmus in the Rheinberger mass. The organ she plays on this recording is that of the Pfarrkirche in Ilanz, which though of recent provenance, shares many of the features of the organs by Friedrich Haas (1811-1886) that would have been familiar to the composers featured on this CD.
William Kreindler

MusicWeb 24.12.05

Greatly of interest to those seeking the less well-trodden byways of romantic organ repertoire …
this recording deserves a firm recommendation. …

It took me a while to decide whether or not I liked this CD. The Organ of the Katholische Pfarrkirche is a grand modern instrument from 2001 by Kuhn, whose booklet picture makes it look a little like the headboard from a very heavy Victorian bed. The Katholische Pfarrkirche looks quite modest by comparison, and the acoustic bears this impression out, erring a little too much on the dry side to smooth off the gruff edges of this powerful music machine. The disposition, proportions and intonation are apparently consistent with Swiss organ building principles from around 1850 however, and so we are promised a measure of authenticity.

Having become accustomed to the rather ‘in your face’ organ sound, I found it not inappropriate to the music presented here. While unwilling to attempt to find some transitional category for this music, the booklet accurately describes it as ‘the attempts of composers to revive the great traditions of the Baroque, or reconcile them with the new expressive and harmonic resources of Romanticism.’ Forchhammer’s work is very much grounded in that of J.S Bach, and this is of course apparent in his gently restrained Chorale settings. The Sonate ‘Zur Todtenfeier’ (for a burial ceremony) with which the CD opens is a far more dramatic affair, with Lisztian heroism and Germanic counterpoint contrasting with a kind of Mendelssohnian pastoral lyricism.

Theodor Kirchner rubbed shoulders with Mendelssohn and Brahms, and possibly a little more than just shoulders with the Schumanns. The works here are drawn from the miscellaneous op.89 collection and are largely lyrical and expressive in character. Pre-echoes are a delicious feature of these kinds of pieces: take the first bar or so of Langsam (track 10), slow it almost to infinity and what do you have? Arvo Pärt, or I’m a Dutchman.

Benedict Jucker provides us with some nice Chorale Preludes – Bach with a sprinkling of extra chromaticism here and there, but the jewel in the crown of this CD is of course the Rheinberger Mass. Josef Rheinberger was apparently such a musical Wunderkind that he was appointed organist at his parish church at the age of seven. The version for organ and chorus is the original, but this work has appeared in an arrangement for chorus and orchestra; an indication of the works justified popularity in the past. While the opening Kyrie is rich with sinuous chromaticism many of the other movements are models of choral clarity and uncomplicated organ accompaniment. Cantus Firmus are well recorded and with an ideal balance between the voices and the organ. Their tuning is impeccable, and while their enunciation and articulation is disciplined and effective, I sense that the conductor might have gone a little over the top by bringing out the ‘sss’ consonants quite so much – good for live performance, less necessary with microphones in proximity.

Like the dried wreaths in a Paris crypt, the music on this CD is tantalisingly evocative. Very much of its era, the pieces will be greatly of interest to those seeking the less well-trodden byways of romantic organ repertoire, and as such this recording deserves a firm recommendation.
Dominy Clements

Klassik com

*** Klangqualität
*** Repertoirewert
**** Booklet
**** Interpretati0n

Orgel für Einsteiger

Betrachtet man einmal nur das Cover fällt einem daran positiv auf, dass das CD-Label ‘Guild’ den Inhalt nicht etwa durch ein lausiges Orgelprospekt, sondern passend zur zweiten Hälfte des 19. Jahrhunderts (aus der auch die Stücke stammen) mit einem Gemälde des romantischen und somit dafür zeitgenössischen Malers J.M. William Turner präsentiert.

Man könnte nun spekulieren, ob das Label etwa einen breiteren Einblick in die Kunst der damaligen Zeit wagen wollte. Dies würde von der Tatsache, dass bei der Repertoire-Zusammenstellung nicht allein Orgelmusik dieser Zeit ins Programm aufgenommen wurde, sondern auch die Einbindung eines chormusikalischen Aspekts stattfand, sogar bestätigt. Somit findet auch Rheinbergers ‘Messe in f-Moll, op. 159’ scheinbar einen Platz. Letztlich erklingen Werke von vier Komponisten unter dem Titel ‘Organ & Choral Music’.

Zum Einstieg in diesen zarten Querschnitt präsentiert die Organistin Ursina Caflisch die zweite Orgelsonate op. 15 von Theophil Forchhammer – eine sehr typische Form der damaligen, konzertanten Orgelmusik, denken wir nur an Mendelssohn – Bartholdy!

Dabei gelingt es ihr in hervorragendem Maße, die verschiedenen, auch dynamisch entgegen gesetzten Abschnitte interessant darzustellen und nicht zuletzt dem zweiten Satz eine sehr emotionale Note zu geben.

Einerseits konzertante Orgelmusik, andererseits kirchenmusikalische Werke – also doch ein breiterer Einblick? Jedenfalls folgen vor den wieder eher konzertanten ‘Orgelkompositionen’ von Theodor Kirchner noch schnell zwei Choralbearbeitungen, op. 11. Was sich hier anfangs noch als ruhige, elegante Registrierung äußert, erfährt am Ende der zweiten Choralbearbeitung leider einen etwas zu ‘brummigen’ Ausdruck.

Kirchners ‘Orgelkompositionen, op. 89’ hingegen lockern dann wieder etwas auf. Teilweise liefert die Organistin damit, gerade durch ihre saubere und gute Spielweise, sogar nette Farbpunkte. Auch die Registrierung scheint hier sehr gut gewählt, wobei man sich doch wünschen würde, an manchen Stellen nur die Orgel zu hören.

Wie kann es anders sein, als dass jetzt wieder Kirchenmusik angesagt ist bzw. erklingt.

Ursina Caflisch versteht es die an J.S. Bach erinnernden Choralvorspiele präzise darzustellen, vielleicht nutzt sie deswegen für den cantus – firmus bevorzugt ein Zungenregister!?

Nichtsdestotrotz findet die CD ihren ‘krönenden’ Abschluss in der oben bereits angesprochenen ‘Messe in f-Moll, op. 159’ von Josef Gabriel Rheinberger.

Mit schön gesungenen Phrasen, einem spürbaren Bewusstsein für Betonungen (schwer – leicht ) und somit einem dynamisch abwechslungsreichen Verlauf präsentieren sich die Sängerinnen und Sänger von ‘Cantus – firmus’ unter Leitung von Clau Scherrer.

Es scheinen lediglich manche Wortendungen besonderen, sicherlich unbeabsichtigten Betonungen oder schlichten Uneinigkeiten ausgesetzt zu sein!

Obwohl auch leider im Gloria ein hörbares Umblättern offensichtlich nicht vermieden werden konnte, sei aber nochmals auf die schöne und einfühlsame Interpretation hingewiesen, womit diese CD als dezenter Eindruck durchaus für ‘Organ & Choral Music’ – Freunde empfohlen werden kann.
Manuel Müller