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CD Reviews for Issue 380 (May 2017) of The Organ


Carl Czerny: Organ Music Prelude and Fugue in A minor Op 607 (1838); Twenty Short Voluntaries for Organ with Obbligato Pedal Op 698 (1841); Twelve Introductory or Intermediate Voluntaries for Organ Op 627 (1841)

Iain Quinn: 2000 Paul Fritts organ of Miller Chapel, Princeton Theological Seminary, Princeton, New Jersey.
*****Naxos 8.573425 [75:11]

This is an astonishingly revelatory record, in terms of the music itself – its inherent artistic qualities, absorption of influences and originalities - made more remarkable by the composition dates, for in considering the fact that Schubert had died almost ten years before Czerny composed his impressive A minor Prelude and Fugue, that Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique dates from 1830, and Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman was completed in November 1841, Carl Czerny (born in 1791, over twenty years Beethoven’s junior) was a far more inventive and inspirational figure than his amazing outpouring of seemingly never-ending technical exercises for the keyboard seem to suggest. Yet how much of his music (other than those pianoforte studies) do we actually know? – Very little, in fact.

Perhaps it is his incredible industry as a composer, reaching Opus 861 by the time of his death at the age of 66, that puts people off: who, in fact, has the time to research this vast body of music? Yet it has to be done if any reliable assessment of his achievement is to be arrived at. This is not to say that Dr Quinn has pored over more than 860 opus numbers in arriving at his selection for this disc, for Czerny’s original organ works are few in number, and we must be grateful for the opportunity afforded us by this very well played and recorded Naxos disc to come into contact with this even less well-known aspect of the composer’s output.

Much of this music – as Keith Anderson’s informative accompanying note makes plain – has connexions with England (the sixth Voluntary of the Opus 627 set utilises the British National Anthem), and there is no doubt that, in considering the subject of the A minor Fugue, Czerny was well aware of the organ works of JS Bach – at a time when such music was far less well-known than it later became.

The opening A minor Prelude and Fugue is a fine composition in its own right, and one may muse over whether it was known at all to Schumann – probably not, in fact, but one may be sure that had he known it he would have been impressed. The two large sets of Voluntaries may be heard as very early precursors of such sets by Max Reger – the Ninth (G minor) Voluntary from the Opus 698 set is indeed an impressive study.

I trust it is clear that my comments on this remarkably inexpensive CD are wholly positive: I have found listening to, and studying the music on, this issue to be a most rewarding experience, and I strongly recommend it to any music-lover or practical organist to expand their knowledge of the art.

James Palmer


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