BRAHMS: Complete Organ Works – Haig Mardirosian, organ – Centaur

by | Feb 3, 2010 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

BRAHMS: Complete Organ Works – Haig Mardirosian, organ – Centaur 2996, 56:20 **** [Dist. by Naxos]:
The first time people hear the Brahms’s organ works, especially if they have spent some time with the composer’s many other masterpieces, they are rather taken aback in their funeral-like qualities. This should come as no surprise—the bulk of these pieces, the Chorale Preludes, were written at the end of the composer’s life (though may have indeed been collected earlier) after the loss of his beloved friend Clara Schumann. The last of the chorales, “O Welt ich muss dich lassen,” was the last piece of any type he would pen. The Preludes do take a certain state of mind to appreciate them, and that state is anything but excited or anticipatory; this is music to let wash over you and calm your soul.
The preludes and fugues are different; while still not the last degree of Bachian extroversion, they must be heard and listened to with the mind as well as the spirit, and also with a certain degree of understanding, as they were written before the composer left the far side of 25 years of age. But some are quite complex, redolent of a man trying out his wings in a new format, virtually insisted upon by Robert and Clara to enhance his study of counterpoint.
This is Haig Mardirosian’s second recording, the first done in 1973. I don’t know that one as I wasn’t paying too much attention to these works at that point in my life. This one seems nicely rendered to me, though my favorite (Kevin Bowyer playing in the Odense Cathedral in Denmark—Nimbus, and still available) is almost a mirror image of what we find here. Bowyer’s instrument is very powerful and his acoustic more expansive, including an over-five-second decay time, for those that care. Mardirosian has about a 2 ½ second decay in a much clearer recording. Bowyer plays the big preludes a lot faster, and I find this very effective, while Mardirosian stays with the more sedate feeling as found in the Chorale Preludes. But then the wind changes and Bowyer’s Chorale Preludes turn a little soggy while Mardirosian keeps the tension up—something the Op. 122 really needs. So I’ll keep both, just for contrast’s sake.
There is also a very-well received CPO release with Anne Horsch playing at St. Rupert’s Catholic Church in Munich. I have not heard it, but apparently it features a more sedate instrument, calmer and focusing on feeling first and not as sharp as either of these recordings. That one also happens to be the only SACD version of this music. But you won’t go wrong with this one, even as an only recording, and Mardirosian has the pulse of Brahms’s unique organ sensibilities.
Prelude and Fugue in A minor, WoO 9; Prelude and Fugue in G minor, WoO 10; Fugue in A-flat minor, WoO 8; Chorale Prelude and Fugue on ‘O Traurigkeit, o Herzeleid,’ WoO  7; 11 Chorale Preludes, Op. 122
— Steven Ritter

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