Reviews

GMCD 7240 – Mastwerwoks for Organ, Orchestra & Percussion by Langlais, Poulenc, Helmschrott

The Georgian Chamber Orchestra Ingolstadt, Markus Poschner – Director, Franz Hauk – Organ, Anno Kesting – Timpani & Percussion

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Organ 02/06

„Das Concerto pour orgue nimmt neben den religiösen Werken einen wichtigen Platz in meinem Oeuvre ein. Obwohl es kein „Concerto da chiesa“ im strengen Sinn des Begriffs ist, habe ich das Orchester auf Streicher und drei Pauken beschränkt, um eine Aufführung in der Kirche zu ermöglichen. Wenn jemand sich für die ernste Seite meines Schaffens interessiert, muss er dieses Werk und meine religiösen Kompositionen kennen lernen.” Francis Poulenc, von dem diese Selbstauskunft stammt, war, was Orgelkomposition und Orgelspiel betrifft, ein Außenseiter abseits der breiten sinfonischen Tradition seines Heimatlands Frankreich. So zeigt sich seine mit kecken Ironismen gespickte Komposition denn auch eher an deutschen Modellen der Barockzeit orientiert, mit einem Beginn, der allzu deutlich an Bachs Orgel-Fantasia in g-Moll BWV 542 erinnert.
Franz Hauk an der 1977 errichteten Klais-Orgel im Ingolstädter Liebfrauenmünster und das in Ingolstadt ansässige Georgische Kammerorchester unter seinem Leiter Markus Poschner verleihen Poulencs Konzert in ihrer Interpretation eine den sinfonischen Intentionen des Komponisten nahe kommende Strenge, Größe und Wucht. Dieser Eindruck wird zudem durch die Aufnahmetechnik unterstützt, die hier wie bei den weiteren Werken dieser CD den starken Nachhall des Kirchenraums deutlich wiedergibt.
Der von Poulenc vorgegebenen Besetzung folgt Jean Langlais in seinem 1970/71 entstandenen dritten Orgelkonzert. Réaction ist das in seinem Verlauf eigenwillige Werk überschrieben, in dessen Zentrum mit einer rhythmisch markanten Fuge zwar eine strenge Form steht, das im Übrigen aber improvisatorische Züge aufweist und die beteiligten Kräfte frei aufeinander reagieren lässt. Kurze Klangchiffren, kaum „Motive” zu nennen, stehen als Bausteine am Anfang. Ein Crescendo auf einem einzigen Ton, so als werde ligaturähnlich ein Auskling-Vorgang rückwärts gewendet, ein Tritonussprung, eine Triolenfigur: aus solchen Impulsen wächst der Introduktionsteil, in dem sich die Orgel zunächst nur sporadisch zu Wort meldet, bevor sich ihr Part allmählich verdichtet. Leicht erweitert ist gegenüber Poulenc und Langlais die instrumentale Besetzung in Robert M. Helmschrotts 1993 komponiertem Concerto Lamento, das über die Pauken hinaus zusätzliche Schlaginstrumente einbezieht und damit nicht nur eine farbige Klanglichkeit erreicht, sondern auch dem Perkussionisten Anno Kesting die Rolle eines zweiten Solisten zuweist. Helmschrotts Komposition fußt, in Fortsetzung seiner zwölf Kirchensonaten (s. Besprechung in organ 1/06), auf dem „Modus H” (einer Skala mit systematischem Wechsel von Halb- und Ganztonschritten). Ganz im Geist des Titels lassen die beteiligten Interpreten Helmschrotts Komposition überwiegend ruhigmeditativ erklingen, doch innerlich von einer Intensität erfüllt, die sich im Presto-Finale auch einmal zu aufbegehrenden und aggressiven Ausbrüchen steigert.
Gerhard Dietel

Organists’ Review – February 2004

The opening of Langlais’ concerto is very dramatic indeed – highly effective! The work has moments of tenderness too and much colour. It is intended as a reaction against the more difficult to grasp manifestations of contemporary music. It has many fine moments, but seems to be filled with effects, many of them very beautiful – for me its opening needs a more highly organised formal structure, with the kind of momentum which carries one forward, as if on the crest of a wave. In this, the fugal section (on track 3) is undoubtedly convincing and from then on, the work takes off most effectively.
Robert M Helmschrott was born in Weilheim, North Bavaria, in 1938 and is now a professor at the Hochschule für Musik and Theater in Munich. His concerto opens tenderly and has two main movements joined by an intermezzo. The mood of the work is, as its title suggests, a lament, but it has many moving moments and a coherent sense of form – a significant addition to the organ and orchestra repertoire.
Poulenc’s concerto is well known of course, and all the items on this disc receive fine performances. It was a good idea to have the very delicate dotted note figure for the violins (which occurs in the quiet middle section) played by the leader only and not by massed violins – this passage is almost always untidy and is beautifully played here.
My only reservation is that, in the Poulenc especially, the organ sounds powerful, but some way from the microphones, while the orchestra sounds as close as could be. lf you don’t mind that (Franz Hauk’s playing is magnificent and the orchestral playing is splendid too), then this disc is a winner.
Roger Fisher

Church Music Quarterly 11.03

CMQ – November 2003
The Programme is composed of Langlais’s Third Concerto, Reaction for Organ, String orchestra and timpani, the concerto Lamento for organ, string orchestra and percussion by Robert Maximilian Helmschrott (b. 1938) and Poulenc’s Concerto in G minor for organ, string orchestra and timpani.
Rhythmic drive and musical buoyancy characterize the playing of both the orchestral musicians and the excellent soloist on this disc, Franz Hauk. They revel in the generous acoustic of the Liebfrauenmünster, Ingolstadt, which amply extends the chords in the dramatic silences that frequently punctuate Langlais’s Third Concerto. To my mind, Langlais was a composer who relied too heavily on inspiration and not enough on musical intellect. By that I mean that his music often contains striking ideas; but they are found next to other striking ideas (negating each other), are repeated too often (losing their impact) or are interspersed with banal episodes of little substance. Development and musical argument are too rarely in evidence. Such a claim may be countered by the repost that music does not need to contain thematic development. That is true, but it is one of the most effective ways of creating large-scale structures. Langlais’s Third Concerto is, indeed, a striking work, but suffers from the characteristic faults that I have listed. The effects are striking enough when fresh, but pall after a while. Only the central fugue moves forwards with a sense of purpose, despite the best efforts of the performers who interpret the music with much pizzazz.
Helmschrott’s piece is an altogether more cerebral affair than the Langlais, with a finer sense of melodic line and broader musical horizons.

Poulenc’s Concerto in G minor is undeniably a masterpiece and amply demonstrates how a work containing many disparate elements can hang together beautifully if the ideas are sufficiently fertile. Unfortunately, the Ingolstadt acoustic occasionally proves rather too big for this piece, which received its first performance in the secular setting of the salon of La Princesse de Polignac. To the credit of the Guild recording engineers, one can hear that they have tried to overcome the challenges posed by the acoustic, but the strings tend to sound too close, while the organ notes float in a halo of echo, especially in the quieter passages. It is a shame that both the excellent performers and technical team are let down by what, in the case of the other two works on this disc, is an ideal venue.
Christopher Maxim

Classics Today Wednesday February 05 03

Poulenc’s Organ Concerto continues to be lucky on disc, and this performance sounds so different from any of the others that comparisons offer little guidance. The Georgian Chamber Orchestra Ingolstadt many not employ a large body of players, but the microphones capture every nuance of Poulenc’s string and timpani writing with startling clarity. The up-close focus combines with the voluminous acoustic to produce not the expected muddle, but rather a remarkable sense of the interior detail surrounded by a deep, rich organ sonority. Indeed, this remains one of the best integrated and most transparent versions of the piece on disc, and if you love this work you certainly will hear things in this performance that you never knew were there.
The couplings raise the interest level considerably. The opening of Langlais’ Organ Concerto No. 3 “Reaction”, with its huge timpani rolls and imposing organ chords, obviously benefits from the immensely long reverberation time of the Liebfrauenmünster Ingolstadt, just as the piece’s marvellous central fugue enjoys the same clarity of texture that proves so effective in the Poulenc. Robert Maximilian Helmschrott’s (b. 1938) Concerto “Lamento” for Organ, String Orchestra, and Percussion lives up to its title. A tense, brooding sort of piece, it’s extremely well written for the assembled forces and sports an especially atmospheric and imposing lengthy first movement. Both this work and the Langlais make rewarding discoveries and, along with the Poulenc, enjoy absolutely first rate interpretations from organist Franz Hauk and conductor Markus Poschner. Great sound, great playing–a great disc.
David Hurwitz

BBC Music Magazine January 2003

Pressed to come up with three works for organ, orchestra and percussion – never mind ‘masterworks’, as they are billed here – one might have racked one’s brains with little success. But here they are, concertos byjean Langlais and the German composer Robert Maximilian Helmschrott, together with the farnous Concerto in G minor by Poulenc.
Langlais’s Third Concerto sets things in rnotion with a highly dramatic opening consisting of clattering timpani and demonic organ chords, continuing in rather the same melodramatic vein before ending incongruously on a major chord. Organist Franz Hauk has the right Hammer Horror touch and proves a strong and agile soloist, rising to all the dramatic challenges of the piece. Helrnschrott’s work was written during a sojourn in the US, and its repetitive structure – based on an eight-note series – perhaps suggests a debt to American minimalism. Oblique and questioning, it flirts with monotony a little too intimately. The Poulenc is clearly the best thing here. Under Markus Poschner’s direction it bounces along airily, but the reverberant acoustic of the Liebfrauenmünster in Ingolstadt fails entirely to mask some patchy passagework from the orchestral strings. Nonetheless, organ fans may well want to investigate.
Christopher Wood
*** PERFORMANCE SOUND
**** Sound

MusicWeb 07. November 02

Besides a considerable amount of organ and choral music, Langlais composed three organ concertos (1949, 1961 and 1970/1 respectively) which have never been recorded so far. His Réaction – Organ Concerto No.3 was completed in 1971 and first performed in 1976 in Pittsburgh. The subtitle is rather puzzling or misleading, for there is nothing reactionary in this substantial work cast in a clear 20th Century idiom, even though Langlais’s organ writing may be somewhat less adventurous than Messiaen’s. The opening drum-roll followed by a nervous gesture in the strings sets the scene: this will be a serious often dark-hued, intense piece of music with very little relief, if indeed any at all. The structure, in five interlinked sections, is unusual: a long weighty introduction stating the concerto’s basic thematic material leads into a short, nervous Scherzo fading into the real core of the entire work: a powerful fugue sometimes recalling Honegger’s muscular and virile writing. This is followed by a cadenza leading into the final short coda. Neither reactionary nor revolutionary, Langlais’s Third Organ Concerto is an intensely serious and powerful work of substance.
Helmschrott too has composed (and, presumably, still does so) a huge amount of organ music, in which his large-scale cycle of twelve Church Sonatas (the First Sonata for trombone and organ was written in 1984 as a commission by the Department of Culture of Ingolstadt) has the lion’s share. Some of his orchestral and vocal music is also available on Vienna Modern Masters (Entelechiae for soprano and orchestra of 1977 on VMM 3035 and his oratorio Kreuz und Freiheit on VMM 3027). His Lamento – Concerto for Organ, Strings and Percussion, another Ingolstadt commission, was completed in 1993 when the composer was artist-in-residence at the McDowell Colony. It is laid-out in two weighty movements of broadly equal length framing a short Interludium. All the main material is based on an eight-tone row stated at the outset of the work. The first movement is mostly dramatic and declamatory in mood. It generates considerable tension, briefly dispelled in the peacefully musing Interludium. The second movement displays some forceful energetic writing. A slower middle section eases the nervous tension before the powerful reprise rushing the concerto to its emphatic conclusion. A substantial work and a most welcome novelty whose deeply felt and intense earnestness of purpose sometimes recalls Frank Martin in its freely atonal but highly communicative idiom.
By comparison, Poulenc’s better-known Organ Concerto in G minor (one of his supreme and most perfect masterpieces, by the way) might seem lightweight, which it is not. Quite the contrary; it is one of his most serious and most personal statements. It is miles away from his customary, easy-going and light-hearted playfulness, that nevertheless often conceals some deeply rooted sadness. However l’ironie est la politesse du désespoir, a saying that often applies to Poulenc’s bitter-sweet music. Poulenc, however, was also a deeply religious man who expressed his faith in short choral works as well as in his large-scale trilogy of choral-orchestral works culminating in his last masterpiece Sept Répons des Ténèbres. Though not overtly religious, the Organ Concerto belongs to his most personal music making, even if it has that playful sixth section inspired by the sight of serious monks playing football! Poulenc, who was not trained as an organist, admitted that his model was Buxtehude, though the final product is pure Poulenc. Maurice Duruflé, who gave the first performances of the Organ Concerto, also acted as technical adviser during the composition of the piece.
Guild’s hopefully ongoing series is going from strength to strength, thanks to Franz Hauk’s dedicated advocacy and persuasion. Of Guild’s enthusiastic support. I now hope that forthcoming releases in this series will include any (or all!) of the following: Rainer Kunad’s Organ Concerto (with double string orchestra and timpani) as well as those of Hamilton, Hoddinott and Mathias, and – why not? – Langlais’s First and Second Organ Concertos.
Production is excellent and up to Guild’s best standards. The recording team again cope quite successfully with Ingolstadt Liebfrauenmünster’s reverberant acoustics. Another warm recommendation.
Hubert Culot