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Dip Your Ears, No. 138 (Mendelssohn Organ Works)

available at Amazon
F.Mendelssohn-B., Organ Works
Yuval Rabin (Braun/Mathis organ of St.Marzellus, CH)

Felix Mendelssohn B. was fond of organs and organ music and wrote idiomatically for the instrument. You just can’t hear it in his other compositions (think Bruckner, for contrast), and since you just about never hear Mendelssohn’s organ music in recital or concert either, that part of his output—limited as it is—remains ignored. A pity, I suppose, since his organ writing, like so much of Mendelssohn in any genre, can be uncommonly attractive. In the best of his organ works, he melds his gift for tunes with the structure of Bach—most of all in the wholly winning Three Preludes and Fugues (written and revised between 1833 and 1837) that open this collection.

Before delving into two of Mendelssohn’s six sonatas, Israeli organist and Mendelssohn-expert Yuval Rabin throws in the sweetly angelic Andante in D major (1844) and the brief adventurous double-Fugue of the Andante in G minor (1833). He commands the light and brightly colorful instrument of picturesque St. Marzellus in Gersau (idyllically situated on the shore of Lake Lucerne)—painstakingly restored to its original early 19th century state just last year, mechanical action, wedge-bellows, and all—and therefore an organ very much of Mendelssohn’s time.

Comparing this recital to a recent release of Mendelssohn’s Organ Sonatas (William Whitehead, Chandos 10532), simply because it happens to be the latest one I’ve heard and was on hand, suggests first and foremost a repertoire-advantage: Switching it up, rather than focusing just on the six 1844 sonatas, makes for a much more varied and interesting program. The sound breathes naturally in the fairly short but open reverb and natural resonance of St. Marzellus, which compares nicely to the small, slightly dull sound of the Buckingham Palace organ with its domestic ring and nasal registrations.

The second of the six opus 65 Sonatas opens with a distinctive, stark motif of separate two-note cells before moving on to the much more melodic, simple, and lyrical character in the Adagio and then cumulating in the complex, busy fugue of the Allegro. The simple F major Andante loosens things up one more time before Rabin gets to work on the fourth Sonata in B-flat major: First a stern toccata (with hints of “St.Anne” / BWV 552), then an Andante religioso (with premonitions of “England’s Lane”), and—penultimately—a particularly delightful and minimally, charmingly voiced*, elegant Allegretto.

The recital closes with Ersatz-Mendelssohn of sorts: Rabin’s Hommage à Mendelssohn is a highly enjoyable set of four Variation-improvisations on the song “Yedid Nefesh” in the style of Mendelssohn… the sort of thing he often does in concerts—especially, he writes in the liner notes—those on Friday, before the Sabbath.

The liner notes are superb: every bit of information an organ aficionado could look for—including the voicing of each individual track (* Hauptwerk: sub-octave coupled Waldflaute 4’, Positif: Gamba 8’, Pedal: Sub Bass 16’, Violoncello 8’ in the above mentioned Allegretto from Sonata No.4, for example)—is included, the notes are informative, and the translation faultless. If you happen to be set up for SACD and MDG’s three dimensional sound (“2+2+2”, four front speakers; two low, two high, and two in the rear) you can enjoy the release’s already excellent sonics in even greater plasticity.

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