Monday 10 November 2014

The combination of Joseph Kelemen, the very fine old Scherer organ at St. Stephan, Tangermünde and the music of Hieronymus Praetorius and Jacob Praetorius Jr is surely pure bliss.

Though unrelated to the more famous Michael Praetorius, Hieronymus Praetorius (1560-1629) and his son, Jacob Praetorius Jr (1586-1651) came from a family that had produced many distinguished musicians including the father of Hieronymus, Jacob Praetorius the Elder (1520-1586).

Hieronymus Praetorius was born in Hamburg, and spent most of his life there where he studied organ with his father before travelling to Cologne for further study. In 1580 he became organist in Erfurt, but soon returned to Hamburg where he worked with his father as assistant organist at St. Jacobi, becoming principal organist on his father’s death.

Jacob Praetorius Jr was a student of Jan Sweelinck (1562-1621), later becoming organist at the Petrikirche in Hamburg. Amongst his students was Matthias Weckmann (c. 1616-1674). His compositional style often foreshadows that of German composers later in the century, particularly Dieterich Buxtehude (c. 1637/39-1707).

Oehms Classics have brought together a collection of organ works by father and son, Hieronymus and Jacob Praetorius Jr. as volume 6 in their Norddeutsche  Orgelmeister (North German organ masters) series. Joseph Kelemen plays the Scherer organ (1624) at the church St. Stephan in the Hanseatic city of Tangermünde, Germany  
OC 691

This organ is the ideal choice given that its builder Hans Scherer the younger (c.1570/1580 – 1631) maintained and expanded Hieronymus Praetorius’ instrument in St. Jacobi. Furthermore, subsequent restoration has preserved in its original form 50% of the pipework as well as the carved casing.

This new SACD opens with five works by Hieronymus Praetorius, firstly his Hymnus: Christe Qui Lux. There is a lovely stately im Basso where Joseph Kelemen draws some fine textures from the Scherer-Orgel with a lovely resonant pedal line. The Secundus Versus im Discanto is light and transparent in its slow progress with the attractive harmonies enhanced by Kelemen’s choice of tempo. There are lovely registrations producing fine sonorities in Tertius Versus im Basso; a subtle yet highly effective piece. Quartus Versus im Discanto reveals the lovely pipework of this organ, mellow, clear tone, gently underlined by discrete pedal phrases and lovely little decorations toward the end.

Hymnus: Dies Absoluti is in just two parts opening with Primus Versus that rises in another stately theme, laid out beautifully with a clarity that reveals each line and wonderfully underlaid by a judicious pedal line. Secundus Versus acts as a lovely foil to the preceding part following with little or no break. This is a gentle, beautifully drawn performance with a perfect flow from the upper manual.

Christ, unser Herr, zum Jordan kam is a more extended piece that slowly unfolds, providing some gorgeous sonorities with Kelemen’s upper line often dancing over a slower line – brilliantly done.

The Primus Versus of Hymnus: Te Lucis opens high in the register full of breadth and joy before the sonority is enriched as more lines are laid down, creating a fine layering of sound. With the Secundus Versus sopra 2 Clavier it is lovely the way Praetorius gently lays each musical line over another with a care and detail fully brought out here with lovely decorations to conclude.

Finally from Hieronymus Praetorius we have his Magnificat Quinti Toni where Versus. Tonus in Tenore brings a fuller sound, again slowly unveiled as the music slowly moves ahead allowing each musical line, texture and sonority to unfold from this lovely instrument. Versus [Tonus] in Discantu has a simpler texture in the middle register with a simplicity that belies the beauties of this music. There are lovely little higher decorations, dexterously played, an absolute delight, before more lively decorations towards the end. Versus Tonus in Basso rises up before the pedal notes arrive creating a lovely rich sound with Praetorius moving all over the manuals in this fine piece.

Hieronymus Praetorius’ music has a dignity and quiet depth that is wholly appealing especially played by this fine organist on such a magnificent instrument.

The four works by Jacob Praetorius Jr. open with his Praeambulum ex d. Here is a composer who draws the ear with his greater emphasis on counterpoint, finely revealed by Kelemen who brings out each line and detail whilst retaining a fine flow despite the varying rhythms.

The Primus Versus of  Was kann uns kommen an für Not brings some glorious textures revealing more of this organist’s fine qualities. Here the music has an extra weight in this composer’s writing. Secundus Versus is a gentle, simpler piece that nevertheless has many quiet little lines and phrases running through it together with lovely little decorations. Tertius Versus opens from a lovely little figuration and develops quietly and gently with lovely decorations, quite beautifully done, a wonderful piece. There are lovely sonorities in the richer, concluding Quartus Versus.

Von allen Menschen abgewandt commences with Primus Versus a stately theme that soon develops from its simplicity, with decorations and a developing counterpoint bringing a lovely harmony to the piece superbly developed and brought out by this fine organist. Secundus Versus Auf 2 Clavier has some lovely rhythmic figurations that bring a really attractive element as the music flows. The final Tertius Versus brings some lovely choices of register, lovely sonorities and colours that add to the attractive figurations. This is an extremely fine piece.

This disc is concluded with Jacob Praetorius Jr’s Magnificat Tertii Toni with the Primus Versus bringing a magnificent chorale like opening, full of breadth and majesty, showing off this fine organ brilliantly. Secundus Versus Auf 2 Clavier has a repeated note running through the opening which is then varied in the most florid way, often sounding quite modern with its staccato notes and repetitions. This is another terrific piece. In Tertius Versus Kelemen uses some lovely stops to provide fine textures in the counterpoint theme as this piece moves gently to the coda before leading into a flourish that begins the Quartus Versus 2 et 3 Vocibus, a faster flowing piece that levels out a little with a lovely contrapuntal theme.

Joseph Kelemen is a very fine organist indeed. The combination of Kelemen, this very fine old organ and the music of Praetorius father and son is surely pure bliss. The recording in the lovely acoustic of the church of St. Stephan, Tangermünde couldn’t be better, full of breadth with clarity and detail.

There are excellent, scholarly notes by Joseph Kelemen with full details of the organ, its tuning and the registration used. 

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