The Organ of St Bavo, Haarlem

Joseph Nolan (Signum Records)

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CD_SIGCD546_Bach_cmyk

The Organ of St Bavo, Haarlem
JS Bach: Chaconne, from Violin Partita No. 2 (arr. Messerer); Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland; Trio Jesus Christus, unser Heiland; Buxtehude: Toccata in F, BuxWV 157; Mendelssohn: Sonata in D minor; Reubke: Sonata on the 94th Psalm
Joseph Nolan (organ)
Signum Records SIGCD546 70:08 mins

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No composer has been transcribed or arranged more than Bach, but the wealth of his original organ music means that relatively little of his wider output has found its way back onto the organ. Joseph Nolan opens this disc – his tenth recording for Signum – with a major exception to this rule, and one that deserves to be better known: an arrangement of the great D minor Chaconne for violin (from the Partita BWV 1004) by Henri Messerer. A dominant figure in Marseille’s musical life, Messerer (1838-1923) joins a distinguished list of arrangers of this music, which works splendidly on the celebrated organ of St Bavo in Haarlem. Nolan’s performance has grandeur and bite.

Handel and Mozart were among those who played the 1738 organ during its early decades, but Nolan’s programme focuses more on the tradition around Bach. He goes back to Buxtehude, too, whose concise Toccata and Fugue in F major is crisply articulated here. A couple of Bach’s chorale treatments, including the Trio ‘Jesus Christus, unser Heiland’ from the Clavierübung III, given a nifty performance, lead to the chorale-based Sonata No. 6 in D minor of Mendelssohn, another composer who visited the St Bavo organ. The British-Australian organist certainly makes a case for this being Mendelssohn’s greatest organ work, but is slightly less successful in recording Reubke’s Sonata on the 94th Psalm here. Less well suited to the instrument or the acoustic, this mighty work loses some of its ruminative, rhapsodic essence, yet ultimately Nolan romps home with virtuosity.

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John Allison