Reviews

Dan MorganMusicWeb International
RECORDING OF THE YEAR 2013
Dan Morgan

Kalevi AHO (b. 1949)
Quasi una fantasia for horn and organ (2011) [17:15]
Epilogue for trombone and organ (1998) [4:26]
Contrapunctus XIV from J. S. Bach’s ‘Die Kunst der Fuge’ (2011) [15:41]
Häämarssi I (Wedding March I) (1973) [1:49]
Häämarssi II (Wedding March II) (1976) [1:49]
Hääsoitto (Wedding Music) (1999) [3:30]
Ludus solemnis (1978) [6:04]
In memoriam (1980) [5:13]
Laulu maasta (Song of the Earth) for violin, oboe and organ (2002) [4:41]
Petri Komulainen (horn); Jussi Vuorinen (trombone); Kaija Saarikettu (violin); Anna-Kaisa Pippuri (oboe); Jan Lehtola (organ)
rec. May 2013, St Paul’s Church, Helsinki, Finland (Quasi una fantasia, Epilogue, Laulu maasta); May 2013, Kotka Church, Finland (Contrapunctus XIV); October 2010, St Johannes kyrka, Malmö, Sweden (Häämarssi I & II, Hääsoitto, Ludus solemnis, In memoriam)
Reviewed as 24/96 download
Pdf booklet and cover art included
BIS BIS-SACD-1966 [62:08]


It’s good to see that BIS are staying with the Aho project. This new release comes just a few months after their recording of the Fifteenth Symphony, Double-Bass Concerto and Minea (review) and, in 2012, the Three Interludes and Symphony for Organ (review). The latter featured Jan Lehtola, one of Finland’s finest – and most versatile – organists. I’ve reviewed his SACDs of Mendelssohn sonatas and Symphonies 3 and 8 by Widor, both of which impressed me greatly; indeed, the latter was one of my Recordings of the Year for 2013. This time Lehtola is teamed up with some equally fine soloists in a programme that mixes the old and the new, not to mention the sounds of three superb organs.

The first of these is the main organ of St Paul’s Church in Helsinki, which creates a darkly thrilling backdrop to Petri Komulainen’s virtuosic horn solo in the Quasi una fantasia. Written for these two performers, who premiered it in 2012, the piece contrasts the organ’s warm wash of colour with the horn’s bracing tones. The element of fantasy is there, and Komulainen’s lyrical, finely shaded performance – which embraces quarter-tone scales – is at once shimmering strange and reassuringly familiar. This work is a prime example of Aho’s clear, unfussy style; the music’s also devoid of clichés, which is another of this composer’s core strengths.

At about the same time Aho completed Contrapunctus XIV, the unfinished fugue from J S Bach’s mighty masterpiece, Die Kunst der Fuge. Appropriately Lehtola plays this ‘modern’ realisation on the 1998 Porthan organ of Kotka Church, Finland. It’s a weighty, almost forbidding piece whose sheer density rather than its detail is emphasised by this splendid recording. Contrapunctus XIV has more than a whiff of the pedagogue about it, but I suspect Bach fanciers will find much to enjoy here; that said, I prefer Aho when he’s not confined by such formal strictures.

Epilogue and Song of the Earth, for organ and instrumentalists, find him in a much more inventive and engaging frame of mind. Epilogue, which followed his Ninth Symphony – also scored for trombone and organ – has all the warmth and spontaneity I expect from this composer at his best. Balancing such forces must be tough, yet the sound of Jussi Vuorinen’s mellifluous, full-toned trombone segues beautifully with Lehtola’s subtle accompaniment. Aho wrote his Song of the Earth, with its nod towards Mahler, for the funeral of his father in 2002. It’s a wistful eulogy whose gently ascending figures - the violin's especially - speak so movingly of mortal release. Once again I was sorely amazed by the simple, direct nature of Aho’s writing, which communicates with such ease and lack of artifice.

Respectively Ludus solemnis and In memoriam are the most outward and interior works here. The first, written for the inauguration of the new organ in Forssa Church, has some strangely elliptical moments - as if the composer had walked through the looking glass - only to build to a firm but stirring finale. As for In memoriam, penned for the funeral of author Juha Mannerkorpi, it surprises with its sinew and shape. The organ’s Stygian reaches – what quiet desolation – are keenly felt; indeed, the 1907/2008 Åkerman & Lund instrument of St Johannes kyrka, Malmö, is a splendid choice for this dark, grief-weighted work.

After all that focus on last things the wedding music celebrates new beginnings; all three have a certain gravitas that’s more about the sanctity of these occasions than their bright trappings. As always Aho is plain-spoken, and Lehtola follows suit with straight, no-nonsense performances of these slight but very endearing miniatures. The recordings in all three venues are very good indeed, although they’re not up to the enviable standards of Mika Koivusalo’s class-leading discs for Alba and Fuga. In keeping with the spirit of this enterprise the composer’s liner-notes strike a good balance between biographical snippets and musical detail.

Small but beautifully turned; Aho’s Song of the Earth is a real find.

Naji Hakim: Påskeblomst / Concerti Nr. 1, 3, for Organ and Strings / Esquisses grégoriennes

Site review by Geohominid February 12, 2014

formance:  Sonics:


Naji Hakim was born in 1955 to Lebanese business parents. His family were well-travelled, and before the 1975 war, the family emigrated to France. Naj took piano lessons and practised on the school organ; his idols were Ravel, Debussy and Poulenc. In Paris he trained as an engineer in order to have a backup should his projected musical career fail (his father's insistence). At the Paris Conservertoire he took many courses, widening his knowledge in general, gaining many diplomas. He studied organ with no less a teacher than Jean Langlais for ten years, and declared himself an organist able to adapt to any technical problems as a result.

From 1993 to 2008 Hakim was a successor to Messiaen as organist at L'Eglise de la Trinité, and his composing style was influenced by the uniqueness of its light and elegant decoration, contrary to the gloom of many other large Parisian churches. He continues the great French Romantic style of organ playing and is particularly interested in the orchestral abilities of organs. Other major influences in his music come from his embedded love of Catholic ritual and mysticism (he was decorated by Pope Benedict XVI for contributions to Catholic sacred music). As well as thirty organ solos, he has written a symphony for orchestra, five concertos, chamber music for organ and brass, works for piano, harpsichord and harp, two violin sonatas, an oratorio for orchestra, choir and soloists, Masses and other vocal music.

Alba has produced an interesting and unusual selection of Hakim's work on this album, featuring the organ in solo and in concerto with a string orchestra, which itself is given a fine and testing piece for strings.
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The album was recorded in Juva Church in the lakelands of eastern Finland. Its parish goes back to 1422 but the current church was built of granite in the mid nineteenth century. The present gallery organ was installed in 2002 by the German Paschen Kiel Organ Builders, suppliers of many modern Finnish organs. The Juva organ has two manuals and full pedal board, with some15 registers in the Grande Orgue, 17 in the Recit expressif and ten pedal registers (including a 32' Soubasse). Its character is that of late French Romanticism, and it is ideal for Hakim's French organ style.

Rather than setting his No.1 and No.3 Organ Concertos with full orchestra, Hakim sets them with a string orchestra, which is more likely to encourage performances, as marrying a large organ and large orchestra is an extremely expensive affair. Here the string chamber orchestra is St. Michel's Strings, a 12-member group who form the third oldest orchestra in Finland. They started as an amateur musical society gathering in a small rural town and are now a high profile professional ensemble with a growing heap of recordings, rivalling the Ostrobothnian Chamber Orchestra, which is better known in the West.

The St. Michel Strings begin this album with Hakim's Påskeblomst for Strings, a homage to Carl Neilson's lovely chorale for Easter morning, which appears in the first movement, followed by nine further short movements, highly inventive variations on the theme. For clues about the movements, the chorale text is printed on the back inlay in English and Finnish. This is essentially a fully Romantic piece, albeit somewhat modernised in the Britten manner. Each variation introduces Hakim's expertly imaginative string writing, exploring many techniques, including pizzicato and solo playing. There is even a movement ghosted by Gershwin. St Michel's Strings and their conductor, Petri Komulainen, meet every challenge and are deeply involved in this unusual but captivating piece, .

Hakim's First and Third Organ Concertos follow different paths in Hakim's rich palette of musical moods. No. 1 was commissioned in 1988 by a Dutch Organ Festival. It is for organ manuals only, and moves in the direction of Poulenc. The first movement has boundless energy, with organ and strings tossing boisterous statements between them, while the second movement relaxes with a gentle swing, based impressionistically on fragments of Gregorian chant, which Catholics might recognise. The concerto's third movement is a motoric toccata swapped between strings and organ, culminating with the organ's brilliant triumph. Jan Lehtola is one of Finland's most revered organists. He specialises in giving premières of new works and he certainly has the measure of this concerto.

In contrast, the Third Organ Concerto (commissioned by the Royal College of Canadian Organists) Hakem returns to the improvisatory French Symphonic Organ style in which he excels. The organ (with pedals) and strings play in opulent harmonies, especially triadic ones. There are even jazz-inflected passages and gypsy strains from the Near East. Its first movement rhythms are full of breezy, nervous energy and humorous thematic material. Lehtola is kept busy altering registrations and executing flashes of glissando. The second movement is marked by a lovely broad singing tune, passed to the organ where it is glowingly orchestrated with changing register combinations. The String's restatements are sometimes punctuated rudely by violent eruptions from the full organ. Pushing forward with more out-going tunes, the third movement demands sheer physicality from the organist, with rapid passage work, fast scales and more spectacular glissandi, with the organ fully tested at the same time by using many of its solo and combination stops. The final bars are thrilling, and the organist in particular deserves a standing ovation!

Between the two organ concertos, Lehtola demonstrates some of Hakim's writing for solo organ. Once again the seed material of Gregorian chant is used for a suite which also forms an organ mass. 'Esquisses Grégoriennes' refers to a technique developed by Tournemire and Langlais which paraphrases i.e. arranges a melody, this time not for voice but for organ. Each movement focusses on one or more registers, almost a study of the organ's capabilities. Lehtola extracts every nuance from these atmospheric, impressionistic movements and renders them with poise and great beauty. The final movement, 'O filii et filiae', startles the listener with a sudden turn from mostly quiet, contemplative music to the full organ's joyful rhythmic and dazzling finale.

For those listeners familiar with Alba's organ discs, it only takes a minute or two to recognise the characteristics of a recording by engineer Mikka Koivusalo. Challenged by the huge acoustic of the Juva Church to balance a large gallery organ and an ensemble of 12 strings with minimal loss of detail, he produces an entirely natural and convincing sound which is a joy to hear. Using simple arrays, separate ones for stereo and 5.0 multichannel, the listener is brought into the church and its space. An organist himself, he seems to have "magic ears" which find the sweet points for his microphones and gets the best sound that an organ can make. In this case, St. Michel's Strings are also captured with the same warmth and detail as the organ. Each string group of is clearly located, and presents without any trace of being overcome by the organ even going at full tilt. Exploiting the deep resonance of the building, deep organ pedal registers and string double-bass contributions give the music a splendid foundation, and the Juva Church reverberant acoustic amplifies the strings so that they sound as if a symphony orchestra's full string section might be present.

Alba's presentation gives plenty of information about the music and performers, although apart from a dark photo and registration list, there isn't much information about the organ, and ideally there should be a photograph which shows the organ's relationship with the overall church space. Texts are in English and Finnish.

If you have not yet encountered Naji Hakim's music, this is a fine starter. Given his fascinating absorption of styles from the Near East, French late Romanticism, mastery of the French Symphonic Organ School and a deep Catholic belief, I commend this disc to any listener wishing to explore further in modern music. The performances are exemplary, and sonic presentation is breathtaking.

Copyright © 2014 John Miller and SA-CD.net

 

Dan MorganMusicWeb International
RECORDING OF THE YEAR 2013
Dan Morgan

Charles-Marie WIDOR Organ Symphonies 3 & 8 - Jan Lehtola (organ) rec. 2009 ALBA ABCD 306

Organist Jan Lehtola and engineer/producer Mika Koivusalo are behind this truly memorable recording of Widor’s 3rd and 8th Organ Symphonies. The playing is subtle and sensitively scaled, and the instrument and acoustic of St François-de-Sales, Lyon, are captured in sound of breathtaking body and realism. My Recording of the Year.

 

Charles-Marie WIDOR (1844-1937)
Organ Symphony No. 3 in E minor, Op. 13/3 (1872, rev. 1918) [29:37]
Organ Symphony No. 8 in B flat major, Op.42/4 (1887/1890) [47:35]
Jan Lehtola (organ)
rec. 11 March 2009, Church of St François-de-Sales, Lyon, France. Hybrid SACD, stereo and multichannel. Reviewed in SACD stereo
ALBA ABCD 306 [77:39]

Not more Widor, I hear you groan. Well, at least it’s not the Organ Symphony No. 5, with its overplayed Toccata battering your eardrums and driving out your neighbours. No, this is the second volume in Alba’s Historic Organs series featuring that fine Finn Jan Lehtola, whose Mendelssohn recital I welcomed so warmly last year (review) and whose BIS recording of Aho’s organ works was my Download of the Month (review). As if that weren’t enough I have his 4-CD Fuga set of Paavo Heininen’s organ music awaiting review. Regular readers will know how much I admire Fuga’s class-leading efforts in the genre, and they will be pleased to hear the redoubtable Mika Koivusalo is behind these Alba SACDs as well.

Apart from being a splendid example of the marque, the Cavaillé-Coll in the Church of St François-de-Sales, Lyon – consecrated in 1880 – is remarkable for the fact that it has remained essentially unchanged since then. Aristide’s ‘symphonic’ instrument is credited with reviving French organ music in the 19th century, and Franck and Widor were quick to exploit its potential. The latter’s first four Symphonies pour orgue show him in his formative, exploratory years, while the remaining six reveal his complete mastery of the form.

The Prélude of No. 3 certainly pushes at the boundaries of what was possible at the time, with its translucent upper reaches, vast, rolling tunes and discreet but powerful pedals. As always with Lehtola the music advances without self-serving intervention or idiosyncrasy, and his judgements of pace and scale are impeccable. The warm, spacious yet finely detailed recording is as good as it gets, and the building’s acoustic ‘signature’ is retained without obvious manipulation or extraneous effects. In other words we hear a natural, well-balanced sound and a perfectly pitched performance. The turn-on-a-sixpence Minuetto is astonishing – the beast tamed, as it were – and the instrument’s dark, woody character comes across well in those light, filigreed tunes.

Even when the beast is unleashed – in the monumental Marcia, for instance – there’s no sense of overload, musically or technically, and the telling inner detail of Widor’s score shines through at every turn. What a fine instrument this is, and how it seems we are there, pinned in a pew and awed by the panoply of sound. I say awed rather than cowed, the latter an adjective often appended to run-of-the-mill organ recordings for all the wrong reasons, most of them to do with excruciating sonics. Lehtola’s glowing Adagio, as plangently executed as one could wish, is yet another gem in a beautifully jewelled crown. As for the wont-to-wander Allegro molto, Lehtola maintains just the right degree of momentum and interest throughout.

I can’t recall a more persuasive account of No. 3 than this, or a more perfect marriage of musicianship and recording technology. In the early days of digital audio critics spoke of a veil being lifted from the music; with hindsight that seems a little fanciful, but the very best Super Audio recordings – of which this is one – really do achieve that blissful state. Happily, the Red Book layer is also excellent; indeed, that suggests as much care is lavished on the vanilla mix as on the more exotic ones, which isn’t always the case on other labels.

Back to the music, and to Organ Symphony No. 8; one of the longest – Widor later removed the Prélude – it’s heard less often than others in the Op. 42 ‘suite’. Listening to the latter it’s hard to understand why, for the tireless alchemy that began with the earlier symphonies produces gold at last. That’s not to suggest that the Op. 13 pieces are leaden – although they can easily be made to sound that way – but that an assay of Op. 42 reveals just how far Widor had come in a relatively short space of time.

The clarity of utterance and enhanced mobility of No. 8 are evident from the Allegro risoluto. Lehtola articulates this movement superbly, and I doubt you’ll hear the soft, punctuating bass of the Moderato cantabile better done. The airy upper registers are just as appealing – Lehtola phrases with unrivalled sensitivity here – and the range of colours he coaxes from this instrument is just exquisite. Played like this, without a hint of bombast or prolixity, the symphony sounds fresh and vital. Even the Allegro and Variations have renewed energy and bounce.

There’s no sign of the fatigue-inducing ‘wall of sound’ we hear all too often in lesser organ recordings. In fact all the big moments blossom without effort or loss of focus. Again it’s the Adagio that’s most captivating. Refined and reposeful, Lehtola invests this movement with a rare, statuesque beauty that will take your breath away. As for the sparkling garland of notes that appears to emanate from the empyrean above, it’s simply magical. The muscular Finale is taut and purposeful, and Lehtola builds powerful, resounding climaxes that never seem overwhelming or rhetorical.

I will be interested to hear Joseph Nolan’s take on these two works. He has yet to record them as part of his cycle for Signum. Dominy Clements certainly rates him (review). Then there’s the admirable Hans Fagius on BIS. His recordings of No. 3 and No. 8 (BIS-CD-471 and 1007 respectively) are played on the Åkerman & Lund instruments in Katarinakyrkan, Stockholm, and Helsinki’s Kallio Church. He shapes and scales these works with great skill. The spacious, tactile recordings are excellent too. However, for uncommon levels of insight and intuition Lehtola must be the man to beat.

Any caveats? No musical ones, although I do find Alba’s booklets somewhat drab and uninspiring. That’s a criticism that certainly doesn’t apply to the superior music-making and front-rank sonics of their SACDs. Then again, it’s the performances and the recording that really matter, and on that score this disc is a resounding success.

In a word: bliss.

Dan Morgan
http://twitter.com/mahlerei

 

MusicWeb International

Download of the Month

Kalevi AHO (b. 1949)
Three Interludes for Organ (1993) [17:45]
Alles Vergängliche, Symphony for Organ (2007) [51:38]
Jan Lehtola (1907/2008 Åkerman & Lund organ)
rec. October 2010, St Johannes kyrka, Malmö, Sweden
Pdf booklet included
BIS-SACD-1948 [70:12] – from eclassical.com (mp3, 16– & 24-bit lossless)

I’ve listened to this only once, from Naxos Music Library, but I’m happy to follow Dan Morgan’s suggestion and make it Download of the Month; here are his thoughts on it:

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again; BIS’s unfolding Aho series is one of the most significant – and most rewarding – artistic collaborations around. Each release not only offers premiere recordings of new music but also gives us a glimpse into the evolving soundscapes of an important, living composer. The forces employed in this cycle are impressive too, and recruiting Jan Lehtola for these organ works is a real coup. This Finnish organist – one of a distinguished breed that includes Kalevi Kiviniemi, Santeri Siimes and Ville Urponen – can be heard to great advantage in this set of Mendelssohn sonatas (review). Alba’s superlative recording helps to make it a very desirable issue indeed.

What a shame Alba’s and Fuga’s class-leading organ SACDs aren’t available as high-res downloads – not yet anyway – for they are very special. Their unfailing musicality and sense of presence is astonishing, which makes them a hard act to follow. Dipping into the latest Aho download it soon becomes clear this is exceptional too, although listeners accustomed to the composer’s orchestral music may find these organ pieces a bit daunting at first. The three interludes, rigorously conceived and unerringly played, may seem a tad Messiaenic at times; that said, Aho’s ‘voice’ is always distinctive. As for the third interlude, it brings out the contrasting sides of this composer’s musical persona, combining as it does stern formality and a tender, melting inwardness.

The quiet, shimmering sound-world of that interlude is superbly wrought and recorded; it brings goose-bumps aplenty, I assure you, and it reminds one of just how versatile – and imaginative – Aho’s musical thinking tends to be. In his succinct liner-notes he admits the Organ Symphony is a challenge for organist and listeners alike; it’s a long piece, whose ‘density of specification’ is breathtaking. The title, taken from Goethe’s Faust, always brings Mahler’s Eighth to mind; this opus for organ is just as universe-embracing, from the subtle rhythmic palpitations and ear-catching colours of the fantasia through to the mercurial moments of the first fugue and the dark dissembling of the second.

I’ve not heard this multi-faceted modern instrument before, and I’m hugely impressed by its near-perfect blend of refinement and scale. If that leaves you dumbstruck then Lehtola’s sure-footedness – notably in those big, celestial climaxes – will leave you cowering in your pew. At the symphony’s core lies a glowing, largely contemplative adagio that conjures up the most radiant organ sounds imaginable. This really is writing – and playing – of the highest order, and BIS have done an astounding job at capturing it all for posterity.

Quite possibly one of my recordings of the year; don’t miss.

Dan Morgan
http://twitter.com/mahlerei

 

Kalevi Aho: Organ Works. BIS-1946. 2012.


Kalevi Aho (1949-) is regarded as one of the most inventive and productive of contemporary Finnish composers. Although mainly an orchestral composer, it is likely that he became interested in the King of Instruments during his early composition lessons with Einojuhari Rautavaara, whose affinity with the organ is well-known. To date, Aho has four major pieces for solo organ, and two pieces with organ and another instrument and Aho's distinctive sound-world takes on another dimension with this instrument, as shown here in a challenging album.

Jan Lehtola, one of the foremost technically gifted of Finnish organists, has worked with Aho for some time, and suggested that the composer should write an organ symphony, following the première of Aho's Eighth Symphony, which is for organ with orchestra. Lehtola chose the 1907/2008 Åkerman & Lund instrument, in the Sct Johannes Kyrke, Malmö. I have to say that this is not the most beautifully toned instrument I have ever heard, but its wide variety of dispositions, great power and its somewhat direct and acerbic timbres are an ideal foil for Aho's invention.

Aho admits in his refreshingly lucid and informative liner notes that his organ music contains thousands of notes. In fact, it approaches "extreme organ playing" with its virtuoso demands, particularly a staggeringly complex pedal part. So difficult are some of these pieces, an assistant organist is required (Magnus Berglöf) to play or be registrant (i.e. pull the stops).

The Three Interludes grew out of the Eighth Symphony, which has three scherzi, each followed by an Interlude, and the symphony's soloist, Hans-Ola Ericsson, suggested that Aho write three solo pieces for organ based on these interludes, and they were completed in 1993, with each one given a new introduction.

Based on material from the children's song "Hänchen klein ging allein (from the beginning of the Eighth Symphony), which describes how a child who runs away from his mother finally returns. The boy's progress appears to have been tempestuous as the First Interlude vividly illustrates. Beginning in a whimsical "Till Eulenspiel" sort of way, soon, stalking, grinding deep pedals incite slashing fusillades of ever-faster repeated massive chords. This demonstrates spectacularly the explosive action the Åkerman & Lund instrument can produce. The Second Interlude is more orchestral in colour, beginning in a shy play of rising and falling flute-toned scales, pulsing with crepuscular gurgling and bubbling until the pedals and heavy reeds blaze in like forbidding granite walls. The chordal elements work gradually into a brilliant C major chord and fade away.

Much slower and more contemplative is the Third Interlude, which Aho tells us was inspired by the most northern latitudes, where during Winter there is a special blue light (possibly a synesthesiast like Scriabin); he sees this as a chord of B minor. Slow chugging chords develop in the background, terrifying in weight and dissonance until time is made to stand still, and a 5 minute B minor chord is played by the assistant as gentle beams of splintered starlight cross the northern sky, both tranquil and magical.

"Alles Vergängliche" (All That Is Perishable) from the end of Goethe's Faust is about reaching for Heaven, as illustrated by Mahler in his Eighth Symphony. Aho uses this principle for an Organ Symphony, modelled not on the French Romantic ones for organ solo but in an orchestral style. It was suggested to him by Jan Lehtola in 2005, and has true symphonic development, with all the initial material related and finally synthesised at the end of the 51' work.

The Organ Symphony has four movements, Fantasia, Fugue 1, Adagio, Fugue 2 (Toccata). This is an awe-inspiring edifice, perhaps an abstract answer to Langgaard's massive "Messis" for solo organ. With a highly complex polyrhythmic and polyphonic structure, and together with the aforementioned virtuosic playing required, its intellectual use of fugue in a modern context, craggy chords beyond even Lisztian dimensions in a digestion of the Faustian story, this is a powerfully dramatic listening experience by anyone's standards. Lehtola gives it an heroic reading, with the organ itself giving a formidable presence. The church acoustic is open enough to let the 32' Bourdon ranks form their fundamentals, which are felt rather than heard, but phenomenal detail remains present, even in the 5.0 multichannel track, which very much has a "you are there" feel.

Unearthly sonorities, wild, demonic moments, ear-pricking textures and orchestral eruptions all are here, as are gentle introspective moments. Given music of such quality and a fine BIS recording, I commend this disc to organ-lovers, who will no doubt hope to hear Aho's other solo organ works in forthcoming volume.

Site review by Geohominid September 13, 2012

Copyright © 2012 John Miller and SA-CD.net


Mendelssohn: Sonatas for Organ. Jan Lehtola, Marcussen Organ in Uusikaupunki, Finland. Alba 324, 2011.

 

No question, the finest new organ recordings come from Finland. Fuga lead the way with their excellent series featuring Kalevi Kiviniemi and a marvellous range of instruments. I’ve not heard as many discs from Alba, but their collection of Finnish music played by Ville Urponen – review – impresses in a quiet, unassuming way. No surprise that sound engineer Mika Koivusalo is behind many of these releases; indeed, I’d say his organ recordings – both Red Book and Super Audio – are among the most satisfying in the catalogue, characterised by the widest dynamic range and a detailed, three-dimensional presence that’s frankly astounding.

That wouldn’t count for much if the programme and players aren’t up to snuff, but I’ve yet to find a dud amongst these Finnish offerings. Mendelssohn’s are not my favourite organ pieces – they often bring to mind over-furnished Victorian parlours – but with a light touch and careful registration they can be most rewarding. The organ used here is an 1865 Marcussen & Sohn, which has a pleasing blend of scale and sweetness, the latter most evident in Mendelssohn’s quieter moments. As for the church, the booklet photographs suggest it’s a light, airy space as far removed from Gothic gloom as it’s possible to get.

So, the auguries are good, but what of the music-making? The Finnish organist Jan Lehtola – who’s had works written for him by the likes of Kalevi Aho and Naji Hakim – is new to me, but I soon took to his warmly expressive style. True, there’s a hint of that forbidding front toom in the first movement of the A major sonata, but the ensuing Andante tranquillo brings with it light and cooling air. This is playing of rare poise and transparency, most beautifully recorded. Lehtola also captures the dark gravitas of the D minor sonata’s Chorale very well – what deft pedal-work – the Fugue weighty but not overbearing, the low-key Finale judiciously proportioned and infused with a gentle charm.

The D major sonata is no less alluring, the broad – but short – Chorale a perfect foil to the skittish Andante that follows. Lehtola’s discreet pedal-work is a joy to hear, the music delectably sprung and airily recorded. Organ discs don’t get much better than this, a wholly convincing blend of detail, colour, weight and acoustic clues. Indeed, as I listened to the endearing woodiness of the concluding Allegro I found it easy to imagine myself sitting in a pew revelling in the gorgeous swirl of sound from those burnished pipes. Pure magic.

Pensive is a good description of the C minor sonata’s first movement – Grave – the Adagio imbued with an inner glow I’ve rarely encountered in the piece. Indeed, this lovely, sweet-toned organ is just right for this music, whose infectious charm and bounce can so easily be veiled by weightier, more cumbersome instruments. Make no mistake though, it’s capable of real heft when required, the Allegro maestoso as expansive as one could wish for. Even in this panoply of sound the recording never loses its composure, the Red Book layer every bit as satisfying and immersive as the Super Audio one. But then one would expect nothing less from a recording of this pedigree.

The F minor sonata was a high point of Mary Preston’s otherwise disappointing recital from Reference Recordings – review – but although Lehtola doesn’t have her floor-shaking pedals he finds more contrast and character in the opening Allegro. As for his Adagio, it has a stillness – a deep sense of communion, perhaps – that’s simply breathtaking, the call and echo of the Andante so finely calibrated. The easy reach and sheer presence of this recording is particularly evident in the final Allegro.

Lehtola is always clear and communicative, even when it comes to complex textures – the first Allegro of the B flat major sonata, for instance – the Allegretto reminiscent of Franck at his most playful. I simply cannot recall a performance of such variety, of such light and shade, the closing Allegro apt to roar as if played on a Cavaillé-Coll, albeit without the latter’s lumbering gait. But then that’s the central virtue of this collection, a sure sense of scale and balance that never succumbs to empty gestures. A rare achievement indeed.

This is another treasure from Alba’s enticing trove. Lehtola is a first-class performer, his playing full of ebullience and insight; this organ is pretty special too, its sweet, even-tempered sound faithfully caught by Koivusalo and his team.

Quite simply, a recital to relish.

Dan Morgan

Read more: http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2011/Nov11/MendelssohnLehtola_Alba324.htm#ixzz1e49ONXzf

Naji Hakim: Påskeblomst für Streicher / Concerti Nr. 1, 3, für Orgel und Streichorchester / Esquisses grégoriennes für Orgel

Organ - Journal für die Orgel 2/2011, Seite 57

Interpret: Jan Lehtola an der Paschen-Orgel von Juva, Finnland; St. Michel Strings, Petri Komulainen
Verlag/Label: Alba SACD ABCD 285 (2010)

4 Pfeifen

Wie fügt sich die musikalische Satzfaktur der hier erstmalig eingespielten Neukompositionen strukturell eigentlich genauer zusammen? Es handelt sich um eine eigentümlich bis einzigartige Mélange unterschiedlichster Einzelfacetten, Elemente aus der orientalischen Musik mit eindeutig europäischen, genauer gesagt französisch-symphonischen Satz- und Formprinzipien aus den letzten beiden Jahrhunderten. Dabei bewahrheitet sich bei Naji Hakim freilich stets der Grundsatz, dass das auf diese eigentümliche Weise buchstäblich Kom-ponierte (lat. componere = zusammenfügen) weitaus mehr darstellt als die Summe seiner Einzelaspekte. Man bemerkt (besonders in den beiden eingespielten Concerti für Orgel und Streichorchester) eine vitale Präferenz des Komponisten für die klar umrissenen klassizistischen bzw. expressionistischen Formprinzipien der Pariser „Group des Six“ sowie insbesondere bei dem Streicherzyk­lus Påskeblomst und den Esquisses grégoriennes für die erweiterte tonale Harmonik des frühen Olivier Messiaen, dessen unmittelbarer Nachfolger Hakim am Spieltisch der Pariser Trinité für 15 Jahre war. Hakims stets kurzweilige, dabei niemals wirklich moderne oder gar avangardistische, ebenso wenig allerdings „alt“ oder gar akademisch-verstaubt anmutende Musik wird hier in tadelloser Weise dargeboten. Jan Lehtola, seit jeher mit der Musik Hakims bestens vertraut, präsentiert eine spieltechnisch makellose, geschmackvolle Interpretation der gregorianisch inspirierten Esquisses. Deren skizzenhafter Fresko-Gestus ist unter Umständen auch so zu deuten, dass die Esquisses zugleich als Muster für eigene Orgelimprovisationen dienen könnten. Zudem erweist sich Lehtola als ein absolut verlässlicher und spielerisch hochpotenter solistischer Partner beim Ensemblespiel mit den Streichern (hier hätten sich lediglich einige intonatorische „Schnitzer“ in den Celli tontechnisch vielleicht noch ausmerzen lassen …). Die Interpretation der Påskeblomst-Variationen hingegen ist berückend schön. Die Paschen-Orgel der Kirche im finnischen Juva klingt bestens ausgepegelt und verschwimmt nie im Streicherklang. Im CD-Booklet der SACD finden sich alle wichtigen Informationen zu Repertoire und Instrument. Alles in allem eine unbedingte Kaufempfehlung für alle Fans der Musik von Naji Hakim. Jörg Abbing

Organ Works by Einojuhani Rautavaara (Alba, 2008)

Site review by Geohominid March 16, 2009

Performance:  Sonics:

It comes as no surprise that the versatile Rautavaara has a fine knowledge of the organ and that he uses its power and colouristic abilities to the full. His compositions for organ span the period 1967-1999, and are generally uncompromisingly dissonant, while his idiom changed from full implementation of the 12-note tone row to a more flexible combination of duodecophony and traditional tonality.

Jan Lehtola, international recitalist and Lecturer in Organ Music at the Sibelius Academy, provides a very helpful account of each piece in his booklet notes. He emphasises the intellectual preoccupation of Rautavaara with metaphysics and religious matters, an intellect that seeks its expression in sound. The 1977 organ concerto's title "Annunciation" is a case in point. Technically, it poses many difficulties, not just for the organist and accompanying musicians: it was certainly 'Avant-Garde' for its time, with aleatoric elements such as moving tone clusters notated graphically and fluttering passage-work with spontaneous speed-changes. At the work's great climax, the blowers are turned off and we are left to hear the change in sound in the building as the still-held chords slowly expire with loss in pipe-chest pressure. All of these effects are decided by the organist during performance. Musically, 'Annunciations' provides us with some extra-ordinary sound-scapes: fearsome, shimmering with beauty, imposing, majestic, cataclysmic - which are somehow other-worldly. As Rautavaara intended, the single-movement work has a narrative feel about it, and the listener's visual imagination is highly stimulated - this would make wonderful film music.

The solo organ is supported by a bevy of brass and wind instruments. A concertino group of 2 trumpets, horn, trombone and tuba sits separately from a symphonic wind band with 2 flutes, piccolo, 2 oboes, 7 clarinets, bass clarinet, alto and tenor saxophones, 2 bassoons, piccolo trumpet, 2 trumpets, 3 horns, 3 trombones (one on bass), euphonium, and tuba. 4 or 5 percussion players handle timpani, glockenspiel, vibraphone, tubular bells. high and low gongs, tam-tam, maracas, guero and flexatone. 2 double-basses with C-string are also included. In the present recording, all the instruments were placed in the organ balcony and distributed across the wide sound-stage, blending remarkably with the organ to produce colours and textures which almost defy description, reverberating as they do in the lively acoustic.

Segerstam's RBCD recording of the Organ Concerto with Kari Jussila at the organ (Ondine) is well-performed, but let down by the relatively close and airless recording, which sounds thin in comparison with the Mika Koivusalo's multichannel recording for Alba. This has a truly impressive floor-wobbling deep bass and a full measure of the ambience of St Paul's Church, Helsinki, making the listener feel truly present at the performance, with its huge dynamic range and spectacular effects.

Apart from the delightful Wedding March of 1984, which Rautavaara composed for his own wedding, and two versions of the fiery Toccata (1971/1996) the other solo organ pieces are all connected with metaphysical musings and depictions of mysticism, more severe and abstracted than those of Messiaen. Jan Lehtola's playing is authoritative and deeply considered.

An impressive edition, both in performance and sonic realism. Rautavaara fans and organ enthusiasts will want to hear this visionary music. The Organ Concerto alone provides an unforgettable experience.

 

Copyright © 2009 John Miller and SA-CD.net

 

The Organ September, 2004

Volumes 1–3

Jan Lehtola at the organ of Helsinki Cathedral, the Choir and Main organ of Kallio Church and the organ of the Church of the Cross, Lahti

The sound of the magnificent 1967 Marcussen organ of Helsinki Cathedral is opened up superbly by Jouko Linjama's Toccata in D, op. 63 (1985) found on Volume 1, in this three volume, three CD set devoted to the composer's confident and compelling writings for organ. The composer is well served by young organist Jan Lehtola, who explores the vivid contrasts that characterise much of Linjama's works with true bearing. The contemporary nature of the works is nothing to run away from, indeed, Lehtola's distinct performances invite the listener to hear and discover the kaleidoscopic colours of the instrument, battened down by the individual yet approachable style of Linjama. The Helsinki recital on the first disc contains six imposing works both secular and sacred in theme where Linjama's penchant for baroque forms such as the Prelude, Fugue, Toccata and Partita, in his secular writing, are compounded by works based upon b-a-c-h.

The Intrada per organo pleno , op.11 (1969) on the second disc is captured upon the Dutch and North German organ builders Kangasalan Urkurakentamo's 1987 Choir Organ found at the Kallio Church. This is splendid stuff for the pleno before more brittle sounds are explored within the five sections of Piae Cantiones per organo piccolo , op.33 (1976), while Linjama's Toccatina, danza e contradanza per organo piccola op. 50b (1981) bounces along with sounds akin to fast dripping icicles.

The atmospheric Echo 1 for oboe and organ (1981) is a rich ‘play upon sounds', where Linjama juxtaposes these two different wind instruments to investigate their similarities and differences. This is done with great effect between oboist Janne Vilen and organist Lehtola upon the main organ found in Kallio Church built in 1995 by the Swedish firm Åkerman & Lund, modelled on the French Romantic tradition with its mechanical note and stop action. Four further works equip the listener with the capabilities of this organ, finely executed by Lehtola.

The final disc in this triumvirate recording is performed on the organ of the Church of the Cross in Lahti, Finland, featuring Shadows in the façade of the organ in the Church of Cross in Lahti , op 87 (1991) for organ duet. Jan Lehtola is joined by Makku Makinen in a clever work set in three movements full of fascinating contrasts, conveyed by the marvellous sounds made upon Viekko Virtanen's 1979 instrument with a façade, reflected upon in the above work, designed by Alvar Aalto.

Here is a set of discs that fully explore the substantial opus of a lesser-known composer who is justified a higher status in the canon of living composers for the organ. These fascinating journeys in contemporaneous styling are most welcome and will present organists with challenging yet rewarding repertoire. The booklet details much about the composer and his own thoughts regarding the works together with information relating to the performers and the instruments (with photographs) used in this superbly engineered recording from Jubal.

DA

 

Helsingin Sanomat, Finnland 6.10.2005

Im Rausch der Musik von Max Reger

Die Orgelrestauration der Johanneskirche war erfolgreich

Konzert des Orgelsommers von Helsinki in der Johanneskirche. Jan Lehtola, Orgel - Dayas, Karg-Elert, Reger.

Ja, jetzt sollte sich das Publikum in Bewegung setzen, denn der Orgelsommer von Helsinki hat eine neue Attraktion: die Restauration der Johanneskirchenorgel ist beendet und dieses Qualitätsinstrument kann wieder gehört werden, wie Oskar Merikanto es geformt hatte.

Wow, was für ein Instrument! Das Anhören ist ein Fest, denn deutsch-romantische Klänge konnte man in der Hauptstadt seit einem halben Jahrhundert nicht mehr genießen, weil spätere Veränderungen die Orgel den Idealen des Neobarock näherten und damit in einen Widerspruch führten.

Erst jetzt versteht man, wie prächtig sich die viele Grund- und Streichregister enthaltende deutsche Orgel dem Begriff Orchesterorgel nähert. Die Walcker-Orgel klingt immer, sogar beim stärksten Brausen, füllig weich und rund, ohne das gewöhnliche grelle Geschmetter der Obertonsregister.

Ich habe in Finnland noch nie erlebt, daß Max Regers (1873-1916) komplexe, chromatische Orgelmusik sich mit Flügeln aufschwingt.

Man spürte bei Jan Lehtolas Spiel von Regers zweiter Sonate, wie der Klang und die Klangwelt sogar bei kleinen Veränderungen perfekt wahrgenommen werden kann.

Der ständige Kampf der Musik zwischen der tonalen Flieh- und Anziehungskraft macht aus Reger wirklich das größte deutsche Genie der Orgelmusik seit Bach, der es verstand, die zeitgenössische Musiksprache gleichzeitig fein differenziert, wie auch massiv wirkungsvoll auf die Orgel zu übertragen.

Lehtola spielte kraftvoll und sicher; ihm gelang es die Sonate leidenschaftlich zärtlich und in wilden Farben darzubieten und wurde inspiriert, diesem äußerst schwierigen Werk eine derartig erschütternde Steigerung zu geben, daß der Zuhörer von der Dreieinigkeit Komponist-Spieler-Orgel gerührt wurde.

Die Walcker-Orgel streckte sich auch in französischer Richtung, denn Siegfried Karg-Elerts (1877-1933), dem größten deutschen Orgelkomponisten seit Reger, französisch beeinflußte Suite Trois impressions (Drei Empfindungen) klang ebenso genüßlich.

Der Piano-pianissimoklang der Orgel wirkte wunderbar schummrig und paßte ausgezeichnet für die schwebenden Empfindungen der Teile dieser Suite Harmonies du soir (Abendklänge) , Clair de lune (Mondschein) und La nuit (Die Nacht).

Als Joker dieses Konzertes fungierte Humprey Wilhelm Dayas ' (1864-1903) zweite Orgelsonate.

Der in Amerika geborene Humprey Wilhelm Dayas studierte bei Liszt, war Busonis Nachfolger als Klavierlehrer in Helsinki (1891-1893) und komponierte gemäß der Lisztschen Formkultur.

Die Sonate wirkte musikalisch vollwertig, sei es auch, daß die Thematik nicht besonders denkwürdig war. Jedoch eine aufschlussreiche Begegnung, deren Vortrag wichtig war. Ein erneutes Anhören wäre am Platz. Mit der souveränen Durchführung dieses spannenden und anspruchsvollen Konzertes bewies Jan Lehtola, daß er zur Elite unserer Organisten gehört.

Veijo Murtomäki (Übersetzung von Helmuth Gripentrog)

 

 


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