Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Introducing Matthais Weckmann
Complete Organ Works of Matthias Weckmann
Hans Davidsson, organ
North German baroque GOArt Organ, Örgryte Nya Kyrka, Gothenburg, Sweden
Loft Recordings, LRCD-1065-1067; 2004
It's Hans Davidsson week here at The Tone Bigot, apparently. When placing my order for the much anticipated final installment in Dr. Davidsson's excellent Buxtehude survey, I decided I'd also spring for the last remaining Davidsson issue I didn't have, the complete organ works of Matthias Weckmann.
Weckmann (1616-1674) is a slightly obscure member of the flowering of North Germanic organ music in the 17th and 18th Centuries, part of a group that includes Johann Pachelbel, Georg Böhm, Franz Tunder, Heinrich Scheidemann, Nikolaus Bruhns, Dietrich Buxtehude and others, all culminating in the person of J. S. Bach. This three disc set covers all of Weckmann's organ compositions, and is recorded on the same magnificent Schnitger-inspired organ on which Davidsson recorded his Buxtehude series. The instrument specification conforms to period practices as concerns pitch and tuning, employing quarter-comma meantone temperament; it's very much the right vehicle for this music. (The instrument and temperament are discussed in a bit more detail in this post.)
I'm not familiar with Weckmann's works. It surprised me to find only a single Weckmann track in my entire CD collection, and that from a disc of various composers. But the music is identifiably North Germanic, sounding very much like those among the group listed above with whom I am familiar. A large part of this school involved the varying treatments of chorale tunes, and much of Weckmann's output is of this sort. Several of Weckmann's compositions take the form of a chorale theme-and-variations, not unlike Bach's later chorale partitas. As a basis for composed works, these tunes would have of course been familiar to the congregation, and would have thus provided some context for listeners. Weckmann also composed some free works (that is, works not tied to an ecclesiastical function: Canzons, Toccatas, a Praeludium), and those are included here as well.
This group of innovators produced quite an enduring legacy, a flowering of musical ideas in the hundred and fifty or so years following the death of Sweelinck. But out of the context of this group Buxtehude and especially Bach appear like thunderbolts. If we steep ourselves a bit in the tonality of Weckmann, Bach appears shockingly modern, a powerfully penetrating musical mind who stands apart from his peers--despite utilizing much of their mechanisms and structures--almost as if from a different culture altogether. I certainly don't mean to imply that Weckmann's value as a composer is merely to provide a block on which his successors will stand, but there is a touch of the antique in Weckmann's style that makes his music (for us) as much an exercise in nostalgia as an exploration of living musical theory.
It's a very pleasant experience all the same, and Dr. Davidsson gives lively performances of these works, bringing the same sensibility and phrasing that infuses and inspires his Buxtehude. One has a sense of the importance of the correct temperament in these works; it's hard for me to imagine they would come off so well played on a 1964 Möller in Cleveland. Davidsson also employs the talents of the choir Schola Gothia to sing the actual hymn settings on which Weckmann bases several of his pieces. This is all excellently done, and the recording is marvelous (as we have come to expect from Loft).