Overture and prelude transcriptions. Hansjorg Albrecht, organ. Oehms Classics OC 690.
There is something intriguingly simple about having one performer play one instrument that simulates the music of an entire symphony orchestra. The performer is Hansjorg Albrecht; the instruments are the Cavaeille-Coll-Mutin organ and Kleuker organ of St. Nikolai Church, Kiel, Germany; and the music is Wagner. Mr. Albrecht doesn’t mean for his adaptations to replace full-orchestral versions of this material but rather as singular, workable alternatives to them. It’s certainly fascinating stuff.
Of course, it helps that conductor, organist, and harpsichordist Albrecht knows what he’s doing arranging and performing these Wagner transcriptions. Not only is he the Artistic Director of the Munich Bach Choir and Bach Orchestra, he’s done organ transcriptions before, having already recorded albums of Wagner’s Ring excerpts, Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, Holst’s Planets, and other such music in organ transcriptions. With that kind of background, we can expect him to produce good results.
So, Albrecht begins the program with the Overture to Tannhauser, very familiar material. The secret is making a single instrument substitute for a full orchestra, which he pulls off pretty well with his arrangements. Using all of today’s modern concert organ’s electronic setting devices and storage applications, he is able to duplicate quite a few different orchestral sounds simultaneously. The effect can often be startlingly impressive. It raises the question, though: If you’re going to use the organ to imitate all the voices of an orchestra, why not just use an actual orchestra? Hmmmm. Well, I suppose, for one, it’s cheaper; one performer, one instrument. But, more to the point, it’s simply a novel idea and a unique sound. For fans of organ music, Albrecht’s Wagner disc might be a good investment.
After Tannhauser, which Albrecht performs nobly, he plays the Prelude from Parsifal. As with the other numbers on the program, he executes the music with intense feeling and precise control. There is genuine pathos in the slow section and grandeur in the bigger moments, a kind of grandiloquence that only a huge concert organ in a vast hall can produce (short of a full orchestra).
And so it goes through the rousing melodramatics of The Flying Dutchman, the longing romance of Tristan und Isolde, and the festive thrills of Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg. Albrecht catches many of the nuances of Wagner’s varied and colorful pallette, generating new ways to listen to old favorites. While I would never consider giving up the orchestral versions of Wagner from conductors like Otto Klemperer, Georg Solti, Herbert von Karajan, George Szell, Bernard Haitink, Erich Leinsdorf, Leopold Stokowski, Sir Adrian Boult, and others, I’m glad I heard these organ transcriptions. They can be bewitching in their own way.
No, SACD is not dead. Long live SACD. There’s life in the old format yet, carried on by a small but dedicated number of European record companies like Oehms Classics, who recorded this one in 2012 at St. Nikolai, Kiel, Germany. I listened to the two-track SACD layer, not the multichannel layer, because I have but two stereo speakers in my listening room. However, I can imagine that given the full-blown resonance of the recording, it might sound rather spectacular in multichannel playback. Anyway, in two-channel the organ tends to get a little lost amidst the hall’s natural reverberation, the acoustic slightly blurring the midrange detail. Not that it doesn’t appear realistic, just a little awash in reverb. A moderately distant miking arrangement doesn’t help the instrument’s transparency, either. Still, it’s a big, round, dramatic organ sound, with plenty of dynamic range, bass, and impact, so maybe that makes up for any small lack of clarity.
To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here: