Anton Bruckner (1824-1896)
The Symphonies: Organ Transcriptions Vol. 6
Aequale No.1 for three trombones in C minor WAB 114 (1847) (transcription by Hansjörg Albrecht)
Aequale No.2 for three trombones in C minor WAB 149 (1847) (transcription by Hansjörg Albrecht)
Symphony No.6 in A major WAB 106 (1881) (transcription by Eberhard Klotz)
Hansjörg Albrecht (b. 1972)
Bätruef (Alpsegen), Donner & Regenmaschine 
Andrea Lorenzo Scatazzini (b. 1971)
Brucknerblume – Fenster zu Bruckners 6. Sinfonie (2022)
Hansjörg Albrecht (organ)
rec. 2022, Hofkirche, Lucerne, Switzerland
Oehms Classics OC482 [69]

This is the sixth volume of a series of CDs which seems to have as its aim the recording of the bulk of Bruckner’s orchestral output. In the nineteenth century, the justification for the making of transcriptions, particularly for keyboard, was that it was one way in which the public could become acquainted with new music, in an era when orchestral concerts were a rarity, certainly outside large cities. Franz Liszt transcribed vast amounts of music by his contemporaries which he included in his concerts, thus enabling his audiences to hear songs by Schubert, Beethoven symphonies and extracts from operas by Verdi and Gounod. These were more in the nature of paraphrases, a title that Liszt used, and for modern audiences these works now have a validity in their own right. Often, when listening to a Liszt transcription of an orchestral work, such as a Beethoven symphony, one can detect details normally inaudible in the original score for orchestral forces.

In Britain the rise of the organ virtuoso who was also the holder of a civic post, such as W. T. Best, Organist to the Corporation of Liverpool, meant that thousands of people had the opportunity to hear music, which before the invention and commercialisation of the gramophone, they would never have heard otherwise. Best in particular constructed programmes which balanced items of legitimate organ music with pieces drawn from the orchestral, chamber and vocal repertories. When he began his duties in 1855, he played no less than three recitals a week; so, as one contemporary put it, ‘It was pointless to talk about Best’s repertoire, since it consisted of everything written for the organ as well everything that could be arranged for the organ’. The only music which he felt could not be rendered adequately in that medium was that of Wagner, as the technical limitations of the instruments of the period, even those in civic centres, built by the leading exponents of the art at the time, ruled out such an attempt. It was left to the next generation of players, such as Edwin Lemare, to enable Wagner to be played effectively on the organ.

The notes which accompany this disc are entirely silent on the reasons why this series of recordings was begun, save for a reference to Bruckner’s standing during his lifetime as one of the leading players in Europe. With so many superb recordings of the original score, which, because of its initial failure at its first performance, has only one version, one would wish to know the concept that those involved had in mind. It is true that, like Liszt versions of Beethoven, new light can be shed on Bruckner’s musical thought by reducing the texture to three staves. However, some background information on the genesis of this project would be very welcome. 

Each of the releases includes, apart from one of the symphonies, shorter orchestral works by Bruckner, such as the Overture in G minor WAB 98 in the first volume, as well as a contemporary piece to act as a pendant to the main work. These have been contributed by Philipp Maintz. Oscar Jockel, David Matthews and in this instance, Andrea Lorenzo Scartazzini. They are described as ‘Bruckner Windows’. It must be said, however, that, unlike Cesar Franck, another organist of the period who wrote a symphony, Bruckner’s musical thought is entirely in orchestral terms. The way that Franck uses the brass of the orchestra seems to recall the way in which an organist might add the manual reed stops. This is not an impression one receives listening to Bruckner’s orchestral music, although in other ways it was much misunderstood at the time by contemporary critics. Regarded as being of Wagner’s party, this was only true in certain respects, mainly his use of harmony, where he grafted on to his very solid composing technique – which had its origins in the works of Haydn, Beethoven and Schubert – Wagner’s approach to chromatic harmony and, to some extent, the way he used the orchestra. In this context, it is of interest that the author of the notes identifies a clear reference to the Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde in the slow movement of the symphony.

The player, Hansjörg Albrecht, is a most persuasive advocate for both the concept and the music itself; the performance becomes its own justification, particularly since he has an uncanny ability to imitate the composer’s lightening changes of dynamics without one interrupting the flow of the symphonic argument, which suggests an amazing skill in stop control. Even Bruckner’s tendency to repeat gestures during a movement does not weary the listener in this medium. Mention must also be made of the skill of the transcriber, Eberhard Klotz. Rather like reading a book in translation where one quickly forgets that the work was not written in that language, within minutes of the start of the first movement, all one is conscious of is Bruckner’s music, and the fact that it is in a transcription is forgotten.

The organ of the Hofkirche, Lucerne is a remarkable instrument dating in part from the middle of the 17th century. Albrecht demonstrates its ‘Thunder and Rain’ machine in an improvisation and although having the reputation for being ‘the largest and loudest organ in Europe’, as described by Mark Twain, it was also played by Bruckner himself. With five manuals and 110 stops, this is certainly believable, but it is used with great subtlety and without the slightest trace of coarseness; indeed, the sound is notably refined and perfectly suited to the music. 

This recording confounds all one’s less than optimistic expectations. All the pieces, including the Aequale for trombones arranged by the player, are extremely effective and enjoyable and the performance of the symphony, against all the odds, is remarkably convincing and above all, idiomatic. A tremendous achievement.

Martyn Strachan

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