from Organists' Review
This is quite the most beautifully produced volume that I have ever seen. In a hard-back slipcase are a hard-back book and hard-back case for five CDs and the DVD. The book contains, in Dutch, German and English, an historical survey of the organs in the Province of Groningen, which, as I’m sure you know, is in the North of Holland. There is a chapter on Arp Schnitger, who worked extensively in this area, and much of whose work survives. There are also precise histories, specifications and photographs of no fewer than 19 organs, all in an enviable state of preservation, unlike so many of the neglected wrecks in this country. As a bonus, there are pictures of the churches, interiors and exteriors, some with carillon towers. The photography is breathtaking, doing full justice to the subjects, the whole thing produced on very high quality paper and bound in hard covers.
The five CDs are recordings of the same 19 organs. CD1 is devoted to the big three-manual organ in the Martinikerk in Groningen and begins with the Bach Fantasia in G, BWV 572, played by Wim van Beek, followed by three Chorale Preludes on Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland, BWV 659, 660 and 661, the Toccata, Adagio and Fugue, BWV 564, the Partita on Sei gegrüsset, Jesu gütig, BWV 768, all played by Sietze de Vries, who ends the CD with an improvisation on Jesu, meine Zuversicht. The other four CDs cover the other 18 organs with a similar programme of works by various composers – Sweelinck, Buxtehude, Tunder, Krebs, Reincken, Bruhns, Brahms and Schumann, among others – played by and interspersed with chorale-improvisations by Sietze de Vries, all in character with the chorales and the instruments. Also in the CD slip-case is a booklet, giving not only the contents of the CDs but also all the registrations used throughout the series and containing yet more pictures. The playing is impeccable and the sounds of the organs are a delight, some quite exceptional.
It is difficult to describe the DVD in a few words: the key figure is the 85-year-old Cor Edskes, the greatest living authority on the historical organs of northern Europe and advisor to organ builders Jürgen Ahrend and Marcussen. He describes the various restorations of the organ in the Martinikerk at Groningen, illustrating each one by comparing it with organs that date wholly from the period concerned, including three by Schnitger. The film contains hundreds of shots of the organs and their surroundings and performances by Sietze de Vries; the discussions are in Dutch with English (or German) sub-titles. A veritable feast!
This whole set is a work of art and a labour of love – a real collector’s piece. 75 Euros is a lot of money but, calculated in Euros per hour of pleasure of both sight and sound, it is well worth the price. Sietze de Vries is to be congratulated on conceiving such a project and bringing it to fruition in a truly impressive fashion.
Richard Popple, Organists’ Review
Review from March 2012
The subject of Will Fraser’s film is the historic organs of Groningen (Groningen being, of course, both a major university city and a province). With a density of historic churches, the province has attracted the attention of organ historians, as well as restorers anxious to preserve an exceptional heritage. Built around an analysis of the almost-lost organ in the Martinikerk in Groningen (dedicated to St Martin of Tours), this is a remarkable and – I confess to my surprise – engrossing film. Why “to my surprise”? Well, it is two-hours long; shot very frugally using often a single camera angle and a lot of stills; largely in Dutch (with subtitles in German and English); and is a serious account of Dutch organ history based around long discursive interviews in which we hear a lot of talking. But the two hours go by extremely quickly; the simplicity of the camerawork disguises the eloquent way in which the filming is done, with rooms set up with almost Vermeer-like elegance, with gorgeous objects suggesting the richness of seventeenth century culture, and with stunning filming of the majestic instruments themselves; the English subtitles are excellent and idiomatic; and, most importantly, the quality of the interviews, and the musical significance of these instruments, could hardly be greater.
The principal speakers are Cor Edskes (b 1925), the celebrated organ consultant; Jürgen Ahrend, world-famous organ builder and restorer; and, Bernhardt Edskes, Cor’s brother, also a distinguished organ builder. Speaking apparently spontaneously, they together describe the evolution of the Martinikerk instrument from its earliest surviving pipes (from 1450) through Arp Schnitger’s notable rebuild, its Romanticisation and decline, and its glorious reconstruction by Ahrend. Comparing the other instruments in this area, this team of experts probe the secrets, in particular, of Schnitger (though it is interesting, still, to speculate on what exactly had obtained him the contract for the work). There are luminous accounts of the development of pipework, including some fascinating film of metal pipe making in a seventeenth-century manner. Similarly, the acoustic and practical implications of Schnitger’s addition of tin to the more usual lead-only pipework, and of the famous flute, which so appealed to Praetorius, are engagingly explored. Watching Ahrend speak from inside the Martinikerk’s pedal towers about the inferred construction of Schnitger’s well-known 24’ case pipes is almost an uncanny experience: Ahrend speaks about Schnitger as if he had only just left the church, and as if the cold winter of 1690-1 when the pipes were assembled was only yesterday.
In addition to this, we hear almost continuously the sounds of the organs, particularly of the Martinikerk. If music itself is only occasionally directly mentioned, it is also the continual theme of the whole. The oldest prestant uses three pipes per note in the treble, and the harmonic richness is wonderful. Praetorius was quite right about those flutes, too. The Dutch organist Sietze de Vries performs on each of the instruments we see; he won first prize at the Haarlem International Improvisation Competition, specialising in improvisation in historic styles. His many and diverse improvisations allow the organs’ characters to be fully shown off, even to a brilliantly conceived pedal solo at the Martinikerk. I found this film captivating.Francis O’Gorman
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