GMCD 7253 – Swiss Organ Music of the 20th Century – Kammerorchester Basel, Christopher Hogwood

Kammerorchester Basel, Christopher Hogwood – Conductor, Jeremy Bines – Organ

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American Record Guide September/October 2003

The lead piece in this program of 20th Century Swiss organ music is the concerto of Paul Muller-Zurich (1898-1993). Like the other works heard here it is neo-classical in style, similar to Hindemith. The concerto was composed in the 1930s and revised in 1978. There are not many concertos for the organ, and this one is a most welcome addition to the literature.

Few musicians’ names have appeared on the pages of ARG more often than Christopher Hogwood’s. He has achieved great excellence as a keyboard performer, conductor, music historian, musicologist and teacher. While he is known for his performances of baroque and classical music, he is also at home with much 20th Century music. Hogwood draws out the lyrical lines of the strings in this piece as few could. He also clearly accentuates the dance rhythms derived from earlier musical forms. As always with his conducting, the listener feels that Hogwood has the players dancing with their instruments.

Christopher Hogwood has conducted another elegant performance; that is not news. What is new is this brilliant young organist, Jeremy Bines. He projects a thorough mastery of the piece and the organ-rare for one only 26 years old.

Bines plays the 52-stop, three-manual Kuhn organ from 1872 and 1926 built for the Old Music Hall in Zurich. it was restored and moved to the Neumünster in Zürich in 1995. The organ is well suited for the music. The technical aspect is superior.

Two of the finest organ-building firms in the world are Swiss. Having little acquaintance with Swiss music, I have wondered if composers in Switzerland wrote for their superb organs. In this release we hear that they have and have done it well. This is a wonderful introduction to Swiss organ music.

Organists Review August 03

The four selected composers chosen to represent Swiss Organ Music of the 20th Century as listed above have in common that they studied in Germany, subsequently achieving considerable renown in their country of origin – if not wider afield, for example in the UK. The recorded works are limited to the 1930s (two were revised in the 1970s) but for the concluding Toccata (1965); all were written in neo-Baroque style eschewing many of the perceived excesses of late Romanticism.

Restored and reconstructed in the early 1990s (completed in 1995), the Kuhn organ of 1872 featured in the recording was moved from its original location in the old Tonhalle to Zürich’s Neumünsterkirche. The Swiss firm of Kuhn ‘from 1937 was a leader in the Orgelbewegung, building neo-Baroque organs with tracker action, many of which were large instruments’ [Peter Williamsl. Colour photos of the organ and the building, but not of the organ console, are included in full liner notes.

Clearly, great care has been taken to present the music in the best possible light, engaging none other than Christopher Hogwood to conduct Basle’s Chamber Orchestra in Paul Müller-Zürich’s Concerto for Organ & String Orchestra. Jeremy Bines, a young artist from Belfast (born in 1977), is the capable soloist. He handles the instrument in the Concerto and in all the varied items with confident assurance, the more praiseworthy in that certain passages of some aridity which may be found at several points throughout can become rather intractable.

On the evidence presented in this programme – despite the willing and committed advocacy of Jeremy Bines – even repeated hearings have done little to persuade me that such compositions, throwing out the baby of lyricism and expressiveness with the bath water on the ebbing tide of Romanticism, are unjustly neglected in the UK. Possibly – as is undoubtedly the case with examples of English music from the 1930s – some works simply do not travel well. We can at the least be grateful to our Swiss friends for enabling us to form a judgement in such an exemplary manner.
Graham Matthews

Gramophone August 03

En route to the unknown – Christopher Nickol wanders off the beaten track of the French organ tradition


Organist Jeremy Bines joins forces with Christopher Hogwood and the Kammerorchester Basel for Paul Müller-Zürich’s Concerto for Organ and String Orchestra. The rest of the disc, recorded in the Neumunster, Zurich, features accomplished performances from Bines of works by the 20th-century Swiss composers Adolf Brunner, Willy Burkhard and Hans Schaeuble. The neo-classical style coupled with some lovely Poulenc-like harmony makes for an attractive CD; this may not be profound music but it merits repeated listenings.

Choir & Organ July/August 2003

Opening with the Concerto for Organ and Strings by Paul Müller-Zürich and closing with his Toccata in C, this disc also contains organ music by Willy Burkhard, Adolf Brunner and Hans Schaeuble.  Mainly neo-classical in style, this is attractive music with strong linear and rhythmic structures, given sparkling performances by Bines. The organ, originally built in 1872 for the old Tonhalle, Zürich, is now rehoused in the fine acoustic of Zürich’s Neumünsterkirche. The recording quality is excellent, as are the accompanying notes.

MusicWeb Thursday June 19 2003

Not surprisingly this music sounds much like Frank Martin with some (non-humorous) echoes of Hindemith, and generally approaches the overall quality of music by these composers. The works are solo works, with the exception of the Müller-Zürich Concerto, which very skilfully alternates the sonority of the organ with that of the orchestra in a dialogue form with the two protagonists trading off comments on the same material. Soloist, conductor and orchestra work well together to produce a sprightly, well phrased performance with a good sense of drama and motion, skilfully displaying the variety of musical textures in the score.

The Preludium, Toccata and Sonatina are interesting works, effective virtuoso showpieces for the soloist and instrument. The most substantial solo work on the disk is the chorale variations by Brunner. His intention was to produce a work for performance in church on the Bach model and while hardly comparable to Bach in either quality or style, it does effectively project a sense of mystery and hidden energy.

The recording is of demonstration quality, so this release will appeal especially to organ aficionados. The organ was originally built in 1872 for the old Zürich Tonhalle. In 1895 it was moved to the new Tonhalle, and then enlarged and modernised in 1927. In 1985 the instrument was removed to make way for a much larger instrument in the Tonhalle, and stored; and in 1995 it was restored and reinstalled in the Zurich Neumünsterkirche which provides a fine acoustical setting, as the recording testifies. The keys are mechanical with electronic stop action. The organ now boasts 52 ranks.

Organist Bines was born in Belfast in 1977 and studied at Cambridge, getting a double starred First in organ and then taking an additional degree in Ethnomusicology. At present he is employed as repetiteur in various opera houses. Christopher Hogwood has not usually been associated with music so new as this, but is now well occupied with 20th century music recordings for a number of labels conducting various orchestras on many continents, as well as writing several books. Somehow he also finds the time to teach at Cambridge, Harvard and the Royal Academy of Music.
Paul Shoemaker

International Record Review May 2003

Paul Müller-Zürich (1898-1993) is quite a discovery. His Organ Concerto, given its first performance in 1938, is distinctly neo- Classical in vocabulary, but other than that observation one can hardly say that it is particularly derivative; one does not instantly leap up and yell ‘Poulenc! Stravinsky’. lt is a powerful, clean-cut work, beautifully scored and with a quite individual melodic character. Jeremy Bines is ideal as the soloist, and the Basel Chamber Orchestra under Christopher Hogwood prove to be the perfect accompanists. I can imagine this work being very well received by chamber orchestras the world over. His Toccata in C, written 13 years earlier, is altogether more predictable, though entirely idiomatic.

Willy Burkhard (1900-55) managed, during his short life, to become one of Switzerland’s Most original and important composers and taught, among others, Klaus Huber and Rudolf Kelterborn. The musical content of his Sonatina, Op. 52, is far more profound than the work’s title would lead one to suppose. its deft handling of texture and fluent melodic style are highly impressive: 1 urge organists to investigate it without further ado. Adolf Brunner (1901-92), on the evidence of his lengthy Pfingstbuch, is less original, though clearly a master of the idiom, and one might say much the same of Hans Schaeuble (1906-88), whose Praeludium is rnuch loved in his native country. While it provides much for the organist to get his teeth into, it strikes one in the end as being worthy but little else. So the real meat here is to he found in Müller-Zürich’s Concerto and Burkhard’s all too-brief Sonatina. For these alone, performed with such panache as is here the case, I’d recommend investigating this disc. lf you are an organ music enthusiast, then the rest will interest you too.
Ivan Moody

MusicWeb Monday 28 April 2003

The four composers represented in this interesting selection of Swiss organ music from the first half of the 20th Century are all roughly contemporary, although Paul Müller-Zürich is the ‘Grand Old Man’ here. He is also the only one to be represented by two works of his early maturity. The short and quite brilliant Toccata in C Op.12 displays the composer’s Neo-classical leanings, still more evident in the beautiful Organ Concerto Op.28, completed in the late 1930s and revised as late as 1978. Here is music of formal clarity and harmonic refinement, by turns lyrical (as in the beautiful slow movement) and rhythmically alert and lively (as in the outer movements). It is effectively and economically scored for organ and strings, which makes it a perfect companion piece to Poulenc’s masterly Organ Concerto in G. In spite of some common characteristics, both pieces are of an essentially different musical and emotional character and, as such, complement each other.

Willy Burkhard’s name may be more familiar, although – I am afraid – his music is not, at least outside Switzerland. His Sonatina Op.52, composed in 1938, is in the typical Neo-classical mould, and has much in common with Müller-Zürich’s concerto. Again, formal clarity, clear-cut themes, refined harmonies and lightness of touch are much in evidence in a delightful work that should definitely be heard more often.

However, Adolf Brunner’s first major organ work Pfingstbuch über den Choral “Nun bitten wir den Heiligen Geist” (to give it its full title) completed between 1936-1937 is the most substantial work here. It may globally be considered as a large-scale fantasy in variation form on the Whitsun chorale. Its multi-sectional structure is intricately worked-out. The chorale is stated after a short preamble based on the chorale. There follows a partita and a weighty passacaglia capped by a restatement of the chorale. Though it is, musically speaking, fairly traditional, Brunner’s music is characterised by clarity of form and often transparent harmonies. This is a significant work and an impressive achievement. The excellent insert notes mention this as the first of Brunner’s four major organ works, and I hope that Jeremy Bines and Guild will go on recording the others.

Hans Schaeuble may be familiar, though his music does not often feature either in concerts or in recordings. A few months ago, though, Guild released a fine disc of Swiss concertos for wind instruments including Schaeuble’s finely wrought Concertino for Flute and Strings Op.47 (Guild GMCD 7250). His Präludium Op.15 (or rather “from Op.15”) recorded here is what remains of a large-scale work with the collective title of Geistliche Abendmusik which consisted of an organ Introduction (later re-titled Präludium), a cantata, choral variations for organ and a motet. The composer was seemingly dissatisfied with the work as a whole but has retained a real liking of the majestic Prelude, which he revised on several occasions. We hear the final version first performed in 1980. He made an orchestral version of this movement which was premiered in 1941 by Ernest Ansermet.

This beautifully engineered disc is another welcome release exploring much unfamiliar but worthwhile music; well worth more than the occasional hearing. Fairly traditional stuff in the best German tradition of organ music, maybe, but well made and utterly sincere. Excellent performances throughout, and the production is again up to Guild’s best.
Hubert Culot

Neue Zürcher Zeitung Wednesday April 16 03

Neobarock Schweizer Orgelmusik

Ch.B. Um das Werk des 1993 verstorbenen Komponisten Paul Müller-Zürich ist es in den letzten Jahren stiller geworden. Umso begrüssenswerter das Engagement des Basler Kammerorchesters und seines renommierten “Principal Guest Conductor”, Christopher Hogwood, sich eines der konzertanten Hauptwerke Müllers, des 1938 uraufgeführt und 1978 revidierten Orgelkonzerts, anzunehmen. ein durchaus lohendes Unterfangen wie die ausgezeichnet gelungene Einspielung eindrücklich beweist. Hogwood und seine jungen Musikerinnen und Musiker wissen aus dem neoklassizistischen Werk ein Höchstmass and Ausdruckskraft herauszuholen. Und sie vermögen ihr Spiel in trefflichen Einklang mit der reichen Farbskala zu bringen, die Jeremy Bines aus der alten Tonhalle-Orgel der Zücher Kirche Neumünster hervorzaubert. Die besonderen Qualitäten des Instruments kommen auch in den übrigen auf der CD versammelten vornehmlich klassizistischen Orgelwerken von Schweizer Komponisten des 20 Jahrhunderts schön zur Geltung. Zu verdanken hat man die verdienstvolle Einspielung der Zentralbibliothek Zürich, aus deren reichem Nachlassfundus die Partituren stammen und die das Projekt initiiert und gefördert hat.