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Ars organi Poloniae - Julian Gembalski

Ars organi Poloniae - Julian Gembalski

Musicon  MSCD 054

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Instrumental


Anon.: Tantum ergo Sacramentum; Ortus de Polonia; Per merita Sancti Adalberti; Nasz Zbawiciel; Cristus iam surrexit
Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck: Psalm 116; Puer nobis nascitur; O lux beata Trinitas; Echo Fantasia (Aeolian)
Girolamo Cavazzoni: Pange lingua; Hymn Ave Maris Stella
Bernhard Schmidt: Fuga Prima à 4
Johann Jacob Froberger: Toccata in D major
Christian Erbach: Canzon a voc 4, No. 6; Canzon, No. 8
Murschhauser: Praeambulum, Fugue, Finale tertii toni; Praeambulum; Fuga I; Fuga II; Fuga III; Fuga IV; Fuga V; Finale tertii toni; Intonatio et Fugae primi toni; Intonatio; Fuga I; Fuga II; Fuga finalis
Johann Xaver Nauss: Praeludium et Fuga primi toni; Praeludium; Fuga
Julian Gembalski: Suita per organo historico

Julian Gembalski, organ of St. John the Baptist and St. Bartholomew, Kazimierz Dolny

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Review by John Miller - October 20, 2014

The Polish Musicon label was established in 1991 by graduates of the Warsaw Music Academy's 'Sound Direction Faculty', to promote the valuable elements of Polish music that commercially-minded recording companies had ignored. State-of-the-art recording equipment is used, including the best Shoeps microphones (including the KFM 6 sphere microphone) together with SADiE 24-bit recording and editing techniques. Recording venues are selected for the best acoustic qualities.

Musicon have now moved into SA-CD, with a group of recordings of performances on historical organs in Poland. For this disc, Julian Gembalski, one of Poland's premier organists, is investigating the "Art of Polish Organs" and on this issue he plays the organ of St.John the Baptist & St.Bartholomew the Apostle, a parish church in Kazimierz Dolny, SSE of Warsaw. The instrument dates from ca.1620 and is the oldest working organ in Poland, and one of most valuable monuments of Polish organ-building. Its builders are uncertain, however; Simon Lilyius, from Italy, or Thomas Gogolinski from Lipno in N-Central Poland, are the most likely candidates.

The church has a high, steeply pitched roof, and its dimensions and openings together make a warm resonance which is best heard when in decay after the music stops. The organ's prolifically ornamented casement is placed high, on another chancel, with the main organ façade sited on the highest tier, the pedal towers being fixed lower down on its sides. The positiv rank section is placed centrally and protrudes from the chancel floor. Excellent coloured photographs in the booklet show the casement from several set-back views, while the console is shown in closer shots, which glow with the evocative patina of its dark-brown wood and the relative simplicity of its two manual and pedals. One intriguing detail caught my attention. Registration stops for each manual are normally provided with shaped knobs of ivory or ceramic to pull. In this case, however, the stops are pulled out by large iron rings, which might well have been made for a horse's attire or in the local jail!

Of course, over passage of time, stops have been added to the original set of sonic colours which the first organ had. It was designed after the South German School, and the current registration dates to that of 1781. The original 32' stop was not carried through to the present set. 25 ranks are assigned to Manuals I and II, while the Pedal has 14. This current plan sounds well-balanced, despite a majority of 4' stops, which provide an attractively light, open and elegant sound overall.

To illustrate his portrait of this much revered organ, Julian Gembalski has concocted a non-hackneyed recital of music, beginning with the Cracow Organ Tablature (1548) and ranging through Baroque history with works of South German style, representing one Italian composer (Girolamo Cavazzoni) and the rest German or Polish - referring to the possible builders of the organ. Some of these are familiar names, such as the Protestant Jan Pieterzoon Swelinck and Catholic Johann Jacob Froberger (a pupil of Giralamo Frescobaldi). Others are delightfully obscure, yet they evidently can write original and inventive pieces. The music is varied in style and registration colouring, where Gembalski is a master, and his technical élan and clarity of vision keep the listener involved and entertained throughout the play list.

As a conclusion and summary to his recital, Gembalski, recognised as one of the greatest contemporary masters of improvisation and organ virtuosity, plays his own 'Suita per organo historico'. The movements are each inspired by Sweelinck, Cavazzoni, Froberger and other composers in the recital. Their styles are mimicked and then dissolved into more modern harmonies and textures, generally with a greater degree of dissonance. This presents another side of the organ's resources, of great beauty (Corale, a contemplative solo) and power (the breath-taking 'Preambulum e toccata').

The multichannel track gives a very satisfying and realistic sonic image of the organ and places it, with fine perspective, in the unusually warm resonance of the church. Stereo too is well-balanced, and both captures have only a gentle breathing background from the windchests or wedge bellows, which is cut between tracks. When there is a constant low background noise threshold, it is generally more realistic as a listener in a concert space to keep the background running through the track spaces. I have mentioned above that the overall balance of the organ leans towards the bright, but when the 16' pedals are employed, their depth is especially notable. Both the booklet and the Musicon website describe the multichannel as 5.0, but my Oppo player says 5.1. Either way, the bass is very well recorded.

Presentation is excellent, with a well-designed and rather unusual arrangement of paragraphs in the booklet, which slips in the pocket of a triple cardboard jacket. The texts are in Polish and English, and concentrates on writing about each composer and their pieces in the programme, rather than too much detail about the organ's its history and builders. Unfortunately, composer Franz Xaver Anton Murschhauser is left out of the booklet notes, despite his four excellent pieces. However, there is a concise account of the disposition and wind application, and a list of stops for both manuals and pedal ranks.

Musicon promises a variety of music, particularly from organs, after their SA-CD launch, and I am looking forward greatly to their progress. While we have had a good deal of Chopin on SA-CD from Poland, it is now time to have a greater choice from its other unique musical arts.

Highly recommended, especially for those wishing to expand their knowledge of historic organs.

Copyright © 2014 John Miller and HRAudio.net

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