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Art of the Engler organ - Julian Gembalski

Art of the Engler organ - Julian Gembalski

Musicon  MSCD 042

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Instrumental


Johann Sebastian Bach: Chorale prelude "Liebster Jesu, wir sind hier", BWV 731; Chorale prelude "Wer nur den lieben Gott lässt walten", BWV 691; Chorale prelude "Wer nur den lieben Gott lässt walten", BWV 691a; Präludium und Fuge C-dur, BWV 547
Georg Muffat: Toccata quarta
Johann Pachelbel: Praeludium in D minor; Chorale prelude "Allein Gott in der Höh' sei Ehr" (I); Chorale prelude "Allein Gott in der Höh' sei Ehr" (II); Chorale prelude "Da Jesus an dem Kreuze stund"; Chorale prelude "Jesus Christus unser Heiland"; Fantasia in G minor
Johann Ferdinand Norbert Seger: Toccata e fuga in D minor; Toccata e fuga in F major
Johann Gottfried Walther: Toccata und Fuge in C major, LV 122; Chorale variations "Jesu, meine Freude", LV 2
Johann Ludwig Krebs: Three Chorale preludes "Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ" (pleno Organo con pedale), "Herr Gott, dich loben alle wir", "Meinen Jesum lass’ ich nicht" (pleno Organo con Pedale)

Julian Gembalski, organ of the B.V.M. basilica (Krzeszow)

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Review by John Miller - April 4, 2017

Michael Engler (1688-1760) is little known, even by musicologists, but a compliment published in 1889 said "Judging by the great number and importance of the organs that he built, Engler is undeniably the greatest organ builder the Province of Silesia has produced". Setting a Baroque style and a standard of his own, mainly in Silesia (of the south west of Poland), he can be compared with his better-known contemporary organ-builder, the German Gottfried Silbermann (1683-1753) who also had his own style. However, many of Silbermann's organs still exist, whereas only two more-or-less complete Engler organs remain. The best of these, originally built in 1732-1736 by Engler, is in the Basilica of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Krzeszów, and is the subject of this album.

As with most organs, in its early history the Engler organ underwent alterations, restorations and natural decay. At first, the organists serviced it, up to the middle of the 19th Century when it was clear that a crisis had arrived, with damage which was nearly closing the organ down completely. But it was 1873 before a thorough rebuild took place, some parts of Engler's work removed and much "updated". One of Engler's unique add-ons was completely removed from the organ; this was its useful ability to change the tuning of parts of some pipes to make the organ more flexible, e.g. to play with chamber instruments. But in 2005, the organ was once more found to be of limited playability, and this time it was decided to carry out a complete restoration to its state in 1736, after Engler's construction was completed. The modern work was started in 2007 and completed the year after.

Most organ recordings have an outline of the instrument's history in their booklets, but Musicon's booklet 'Art of the Engler Organ' presents a more comprehensive account of the latest restoration by Andreas Hahn of the famous works of Jehmlich Orgelbau Dresden, experts at restoring historic organs. I was fascinated when I found this detailed account of problems encountered, and the ingenious ways in which they were tackled. Hahn tells us "History cannot be made undone. At best, the scars can be tended by caring hands. Now is the time to listen to it".

The final disposition of the renewed organ is listed in the booklet. There are three manuals (Hauptwerk, Brustwerk, Rückpositiv and of course a Pedal Board, the pedal range including no less than seven 16' foot and two 32' foot registers. The total on the organ is 54 stops. A former Engler speciality is the presence of three 16' stops on the Hauptwerk - Burdon Flaut, Quinadena and Viola di Gamba. There is also a cymbol stop and several medieval-type registers such as Gemshorn 8' and Nachthorn 8'.

This recording was made in 2009 by Julian Gembalski. He plays a series of Baroque works which are mostly based on chorales, from the German Baroque: J.S. Bach, Georg Muffat, Johann Pachelbel, J.F.N Seger, J.G. Walther, J.L. Krebs. In fact, not just 'German' in the musical sense; while these composers were in some way directly influenced by Bach (family or pupil), most of them also visited places beyond their bases in Northern or Southern Germany, each of which had their own musical styles, but also visited or studied in France, Italy and Vienna. And there is no doubt that Bach's own work was often strongly influenced by studies of music from Italy and France. Perhaps it is more accurate to call the work of these composers "European".

Gembalski, whose amazingly busy life is summarised in the booklet as "He conducts intense artistic, scientific and pedagogical activities... all over Europe and the USA", is fully in the styles of every in his chosen programme. Further, he has a masterly grip of the newly-reconstructed Engler organ, using striking colour combinations from the available Baroque registers. Take just one example, the great C minor Prelude and Fugue of Bach (BWV 547), which is full of drama from its amusing opening chordal prancing to the majestic final entry of the five-voice fugue on the pedal. (I cannot be certain if one of the 32' pedal registers was used, as the church staff of Engler's time were often scared of employing such a deep sound, felt more than heard, for 32' use frequently caused architectural damage in churches).

Presentation of this album, in a 3-gate glossy Digi-Pak, is exemplary. The 47 page attached book text is in Polish, German and English and adds informative comments on each item on the programme, particularly detailed with the Bach C minor Prelude and Fugue. As I noted above there is fascinating description of the methods of recent re-building, which reveal some of Engler's specialties, not seen since their removal in the middle of the Nineteenth Century. The booklet also sports fine glossy coloured photographs of the wonderfully ornate Baroque casement, and a particular attractive one of Gembalski sitting at the manuals and writing notes on a score.

This is a segment of Musicon's project for recording as a "True Ambience SACD". For recording organs it is essential to reproduce the relationship between the organ and its environment from its ambience. This is very well done here, with the reverberation cloaking the organ in action and a convincing dying ambience when the organ stopped. The sound stage is quite wide, and the various pipe sets behind the ornate casement present with front-to-back distances which give a good 3-D sound stage in multichannel 5.0. This album was recorded quite early in the SACD technology, and uses PCM rate 96kHz at 24 bits, which might explain the somewhat harsh sound at the top end which I felt when very loud mixture stops at full organ. Possibly using DSD technique from the start might have cured this, but otherwise the sound is splendid on my system.

'Art of the Engler Organ' is much more than just an organ playing German Baroque chorales; I have learned a great deal from its entirety. Highly recommended!

Copyright © 2017 John Miller and HRAudio.net

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