Friday 14 December 2012

Music for Two Organs: The Viennese Habsburg Court of the 17th Century – a new Audite release with outstanding performances from David Blunden and Johannes Strobl.

After the extinction of the Luxembourg dynasty in 1438 the court orchestra was taken over by the Habsburgs and by the time of the ‘Musikkaiser´ (musical emperors)  Ferdinand III, Leopold I, Joseph I and Karl VI, music flourished.

This new release brings a selection of organ music from composers such as Giovanni Priuli, Giovanni Valentini, Wolfgang Ebner, Johann Jakob Froberger, Alessandro Poglietti and Kaiser Leopold I himself.

SACD 92.653
The venue is appropriate, being the Benedictine Abbey Church of Muri in the Swiss Canton of Aargau. The Abbey was founded by a Habsburg ancestor, Radbot, Count of Habsburg (c. 985 – 1045). In the Cloister are some of the finest examples of Swiss Renaissance glass painting, some of which are reproduced on the booklet and tray insert of this beautifully produced CD. Here also is the Habsburg crypt containing the hearts of the last rulers of the Austrian Monarchy, Emperor Charles I and Empress Zita of Bourbon-Parma and the hearts of other members of the Habsburg family. The bodies of the couple's sons Randolph and Felix are also buried here.

The Abbey Church has an octagonal basilica with four galleries, one at each corner apparently built for musical purposes. The two well preserved and beautifully restored organs, the Evangelienorgel and the Epistelorgel, built by the well-known organ builders Joseph and Victor Ferdinand Bossart in 1743 are also most appropriate.

The very fine organists are David Blunden and Johannes Strobl.
who are joined by the Choralschola der Capella Murensis for three of the works given here. The Australian organist, harpsichordist and pianist, David Blunden, now lives in Basel. He has a busy career as a soloist, ensemble musician and accompanist performing at major festivals, theatres and churches throughout Europe.

The Austrian born, Johannes Strobl, is the Director of Music of the Catholic parish of Muri where he oversees the historical organs of the church of the former Benedictine monastery and is Artistic Director of a distinguished concert series. As well as teaching Improvisation and Liturgical Organ playing at the Hochschule Luzern-Musik, his musical activities as soloist and ensemble player have taken him to many European countries as well as Israel, Japan, the US, Brazil and Argentina.

This disc groups the featured works under the appropriate reign for each composer starting with that of Ferdinand II and the composers Giovanni Priuli (c.1575-1626) and Giovanni Valentini (1582/3-1649).

Priuli’s rousing Civitas beata Ierusalem a 8, that opens this CD gives us immediately the magnificent sound of the two organs placed at opposing sides of the Abbey Church.  Valentini’s Conzon a 6 opens with the Epistelorgel before the Evangelienorgel replies, then two organs alternate as though having conversation, the polyphonic effect of which is quite stunning.

Priuli’s Canzone seconde a 8 that follows is a lovely work beautifully played by David Blunden and Johannes Strobl. Valentini is again featured with another Conzon where the two organs complement each other wonderfully in the way that the registrations are carefully chosen making for some terrific sounds from each side of the Abbey Church.

Priuli is again represented with O Quam dulcis a 8 which shows off the subtle blending of these two organs. How the organists manage in a venue that, whilst not in any way sounding over reverberant, must nevertheless cause time delays, is amazing.

In the Ostersequenz (Easter Sequence)Victimae paschali laudes, the Choralschola der Cappella Murensis join the two organs, providing a double choir placed in the galleries around the church. It is at times like this that I wish I had surround sound which on this recording must make for a wonderful experience. Even in stereo the sound is remarkably effective. During this sequence, there is a Praembula for solo organ from David Blunden.

From the Ferdinand III era comes the composers Wolfgang Ebner (1611/12-1665) and Johann Jakob Froberger (1616-1667).

Ebner is represented by a great little Toccata in G and attractive Partite sopra l’Aria Favorite, a set of extended variations full of life and interest. Froberger is one of the better known composers featured on this disc with his Toccata da sonarsi alla levatione, in a beautiful performance by Johannes Strobl playing the Epistelorgel and the attractive Capriccio played by David Blunden on the Evangelienorgel.

The sound opens out for the Pfingstsequenz (Pentecost Sequence), where the Choralschola der Cappella Murensis again join the two organists in Veni Sancte Spritus, with David Blunden again providing a solo performance of the Praeambula.

Finally there is music from the Court of Leopold I with music from Kaiser Leopold I himself, Johann Caspar Kerll (1627-1693), Alessandro Poglietti (c.1600-1683) and Franz Matthias Techelmann (c.1649-1714)

The novelty here must be the two works by Kaiser Leopold I. His Allemanda, Aria and Canario is a simple, straightforward work. Johann Caspar Kerll is again a name that many people will know and his Capriccio sopra il cucu is terrific fun with its imitation of the cuckoo, especially as it speeds up during the course of the work with some wonderful playing from Johannes Strobl.

Poglietti’s unusual Conzon uber das Hennen und Hannen Geschrey follows naturally after the Kerll with its light and rhythmic sounds brilliantly played by David Blunden on the Evangelienorgel. Capriccio uber das Hennen Geschrey receives a lovely performance by Johannes Strobl and the concluding Daβ Hannen Geschray that provides another solo from David Blunden.

Kerll is again represented by his lively little Fuga: Clamor grillorum campestrium in a great performance by Johannes Strobl. The second appearance for Leopold I is his Aria, Gavotte and Sarabanda, a work that shows a little more substance than the pieces featured earlier. Techelmann proves to be a composer of some accomplishment on the evidence of his Ricercar in C played by David Blunden.

The Marianische Antiphon Salve Regina concludes this terrific CD with the Choralschola der Cappella Murensis again joining the two organs in a performance full of atmosphere.

As I have already made clear, the performances are outstanding, with David Blunden and Johannes Strobl showing great musicality in the way they make the two organs blend, as well as in their individual organ solos. The excellent Choralschola der Cappella Murensis remind us of the use of Gregorian chant in the liturgy.

With an excellent recording, excellent booklet notes by Johannes Strobl and full organ specifications and registrations, this new release receives an enthusiastic recommendation.


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