Anders Eidsten Dahl’s organ recital of Mendelssohn’s Sonatas Nos 1-6 and Nine Pieces Without Opus Numbers

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COMPOSERS: Felix Mendelssohn
LABELS: Lawo
ALBUM TITLE: Mendelssohn
WORKS: Sonatas Nos 1-6; Nine Pieces Without Opus Numbers
PERFORMER: Anders Eidsten Dahl (organ)
CATALOGUE NO: LWC1108

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Though not a complete survey of Mendelssohn’s organ works, Anders Eidsten Dahl’s presentation – both in his playing and detailed programme notes – gives a good picture of the composer’s output for the instrument. The only major pieces missing are the Three Preludes and Fugues, Op. 37, whose form is a reminder of Mendelssohn’s pioneering engagement with Bach. The great master’s spirit lingers elsewhere in many chorale-based structures, but less helpfully there is also the influence of the 19th-century English musical market, for which Mendelssohn intended most of these pieces. In an oft-quoted letter, he asked his English publisher to issue collections of his organ works as ‘Sonatas’ rather than ‘Voluntaries’, but many of these movements still sound like church-service postludes and show how Mendelssohn’s encounters with Victorian religiosity brought forth some of his least inspiring music.

Just occasionally, Eidsten Dahl is too respectful of this, and some movements lack flair. But in the strongest pieces (including the First and Sixth Sonatas) the Norwegian organist makes the most of this material, playing with a feeling for the idiom that is authentically sober yet musically stirring. The organ of Oslo’s Sofienberg Church may be more impressive (especially in the pedal department) than the instruments Mendelssohn encountered in England, but Eidsten Dahl uses its colours to reconnect this music to the German Romantic tradition. On the second CD, devoted to pieces without opus numbers, some of that brightness and bite is heard to exciting effect, as in the Allegro, Choral and Fugue in D major, the grandest of all Mendelssohn’s organ works.

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John Allison