CHOPIN: 24 Preludes – Gunther Rost, organ – Oehms Classics

by | Oct 20, 2011 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

CHOPIN: 24 Preludes, Op. 28 – Gunther Rost, organ – Oehms Classics multichannel SACD 681, 50:37 [Distr. by Naxos] ***:
Though a few of these pieces were played on the organ at Chopin’s funeral, and Liszt’s “arrangements” have long been known, Chopin’s music has not tickled the keys of organs worldwide in general, and probably for good reasons. Though the surround sound of this disc is nicely placed, it is played on quite a large instrument (at one time the largest in Germany—Church of the Virgin Mary in Kevelaer, built 1905) and played very well by Gunther Rost, but I think it will demonstrate to most people why some things are permitted and not always expedient. The sonic wash is aglow here, the distance factor affecting greatly our appreciation of Chopin’s unique sense of intimacy, and we have to strain to really hear what is going on, with buckets and buckets of instrumental detail simply getting lost.
This is not a problem unique to the organ of course; much of Chopin’s music is such that very careful pedaling and articulation is required to make all of the notes—and sometimes, as we all know, there are a slew of them compacted into a very small time frame—heard with the requisite clarity and emotional impact. The organ lacks the first and is completely devoid of the second. I have been very moved by this music many times because the piano is able to convey the sentiment to me on an extremely intimate and closely-apportioned level, but here the coldness just sets in like the first autumn freeze. If Chopin lacks warmth then he becomes just note spinning or even—egad!—Liszt! And that simply cannot be allowed to happen. Of all composers who ever lived this man’s music was meant for the piano and nothing else. The most noted virtuoso in the world—and Rost ranks among them—cannot save a misstated goal by attempting to transfer these works to an instrument just not capable by nature of making the music speak.
Sound is wonderful, performances are as good as can be expected (Rost uses the naked piano score) and organists will surely want this. I am not so sure about Chopin lovers.
—Steven Ritter

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