An Organ Transcription
Hansjörg Albrecht, organ
On this recording, Hansjörg Albrecht, conductor, organist and cembalist, artistic director of the Munich Bach Choir since September 2005, presents his elaborate arrangements for two organs (St. Nikolai in Kiel), in connection with a skilful multi-channel recording concept. The result is a real CD hit for Wagner fans, and a challenge for your stereo or surround.
Symphonic Suite for Organ:
“The Ring Without Words”
Organist Hansjörg Albrecht and sound engineer Martin Fischer got together to collaborate on an absolutely unique project in Kiel’s St. Nikolai: Wagner’s “Ring Without Words” as a symphonic suite for organ. Due to the different locations in the church of the main and the smaller choir organs, both of which can be coordinated and played from one console, this recording has a special place among all previously produced organ transcriptions.
To make the orchestral sound even more direct and denser, some passages were overdubbed
as well. Lastly, the SACD recording procedure (Super Audio CD) was used, which supports multi-channel surround sound in five channels.
Hansjörg Albrecht and Martin Fischer are two musicians who are both thoroughly passionate
about Wagner’s musical language as well as obsessed with the ideal of achieving
the best possible realization of Richard Wagner’s sonic world.
FOUR QUESTION FOR ORGANIST HANSJÖRG ALBRECHT
Why Wagner’s Ring on the organ?
Because Richard Wagner himself let the “Queen of the Instruments” play in various sacred scenes in his operas Rienzi, Lohengrin and Meistersinger; because the Ring – particularly
the finale of Götterdämmerung – plays a key role in music history; and because the organ is the only instrument equal to a big orchestra.
What makes Kiel’s St. Nikolai especially good for this project? Were there other locations
you looked at as possibilities?
The overall situation in St. Nikolai enables the widest possible opportunities for experimenting
with sound colours. Both the main organ as well as the choir organ can be played together
or alternately. In addition, a special and highly varied system of couplers enables the octaves of the individual voices to be exchanged
(almost entirely) as desired, and – in contrast to most organs – existing registers to be handled very freely. Registrating – one could say orchestrating – an organ with this kind of multiplex system is comparable to how impressionist painters improvised with their colours. In addition, this beautiful instrument is Germany’s largest organ built by the French company Cavaillé-Coll-Mutin, and it sounds fantastic!
What is also especially good about St. Nikolai and what virtually predestined it for this recording is its excellent acoustics. These have been increased by the architectural renovations
of the last years but the sound is still very transparent.
As alternatives, we did look at the monastery
basilica in Waldsassen (Jann), St. Nikolai in Leipzig (Ladegast/Eule), St. Annen zu Annaberg
(Walcker), the Berlin cathedral (Sauer) or the auditorium of the University of Bochum (Klais).
Some of Wagner’s Ring has already been transcribed
for organ. Did you use this material?
The most well known transcriptions are by Edwin
Henry Lemare, who started a true organ boom in England and the United States at the beginning of the 20th century with his organ transcriptions of the widest variety of orchestral
works. Sigfrid Karg-Elert and George Thalben-Ball – to name only two – likewise transcribed numerous Wagner works for organ,
following the tastes of the times as well as the possibilities provided by the large Anglo-
American romantic-symphonic concert organs. In addition, the young composer Axel Langmann wrote some variants as well as a concert version of the finale of the Götterdämmerung.
This material supplied the basis for this recording.
On the other hand, it was our idea to use the opportunities provided by technology in a type of playback procedure to get as close to an orchestral sound as possible. It was as if we followed in the footsteps of Glen Gould, who had wanted to use this type of technology to record Richard Strauss’ Metamorphoses on the piano.
Under what conditions did you make this recording?
We had the luxury of being able to work and experiment for seven nights in a row. Other than is usually the case, when a prepared work must be recorded in its full length, the concert version was only the basis of the recording. We decided when we were working which parts of the transcription would be replaced with much more detailed overdubbing of the corresponding score sections. Subsequently, we added everything that wouldn’t have been possible with only two hands and feet. Over 25 hours of registration, over 500 combinations, immediate cutting on location, mutual respect for the abilities and work of the partner: convergence
with Richard Wagner…
FOUR QUESTIONS FOR SOUND ENGINEER MARTIN FISCHER
What recording procedures did you use, and what is special about this production?
The recordings used the 5.1 procedure. Five microphones are placed throughout the room. The big advantage of this procedure over stereo
is the overwhelming spatial dimension and sense of depth it gives. This is especially true in St. Nikolai in Kiel, where the organs are located
across from each other and the listener “sits” between the instruments.
The special feature of this production is the use of the so-called “overdubbing procedure”.
This means that a number of recordings of the organ with its various voicings and registrations
were played one after another and then placed on top of each other. Although this procedure is used every day in pop music production, it has never been used in classical music or for organ recordings, as far as I know. But without this method, it wouldn’t have been possible to be the “Lord of the Ring” with the density of this score – and we would have had to restrict ourselves to the limits of transcriptions.
This technique allowed us to create an orchestral adaptation that can’t be realized live unless one has five organists at five consoles
in a room with ten organs.
Was it acoustically pro-blematic to “catch” two different instruments?
St. Nikolai’s turned out to be acoustically very well balanced. The microphones
were placed in the middle of the room; the listener sits in the “crossfire” between the two instruments.
How did you prepare for this project?
I had had the idea of recording the Ring on organ for a long time, but Hansjörg Albrecht was the first organist I found who was “crazy”
enough to want to get involved in such a scheme, with all work involved. After I heard the first transcriptions during a concert at the Halle Marktkirche, though, I actually became
quite worried whether the project with its orchestral interpretation would actually be possible. The registers were too far away from the orchestral sound; the dynamics in the crescendos were too extreme. I couldn’t hear Wagner at all. But this is what gave me the idea of using overdubbing, and we then went looking for a suitable organ, stopping finally
in Kiel. The technical realization was less spectacular. Years of experience with organ recordings led to selection of the appropriate microphones by Microtech, and previous 5.1 productions served as tests to ensure avoidance
of any difficulties during production.
Under what conditions could you as a sound engineer carry out the recording in Kiel’s main cathedral?
The conditions in St. Nikolai were very good. On the one hand, our intentions with both instruments worked out completely, and the console – a true “construction set” containing all coupling and programming opportunities of a modern organ, all the way to a controllable cymbelstern – was the basis for this recording.
In addition, good listening conditions and a short way to the “Valhalla” of the musical creation…
Questions: Tobias Kade
THE CAVAILLÉ-COLL-MUTIN ORGAN
This organ comes from a church in the city of Tourcoing (North France), which was turned into a warehouse in 1995. It is the largest instrument
built by the Cavaillé-Coll-Mutin organ builders
existent in Germany today. Two further organs, originally built for other churches, are located in the Osnabrück cathedral and in St. Bernhard‘s in Mainz.
Aristide Cavaillé-Coll (1811–1899) is considered to be one of the world‘s most significant organ
builders. Although he adhered to the basic principles of classic French organ-building, he transformed these into an expressive instrumental
type that corresponded to the orchestral-
symphonic organ music written in mid-19th century France by such composers as César Franck, Charles-Marie Widor and Louis Vierne.
The typical disposition of the Cavaillé-Coll organs has influenced international organ building, especially
that of large concert instruments, until the present day.
Cavaillé-Colls‘ inventions or further developments
in organ building include using various wind pressures within one register, the overblowing flute (Flûte harmonique, Flûte octaviante) and the Appel.
Most of his large instruments remain in the large French cathedrals and are under historic protection.
Charles Mutin (1861–1931) was Cavaillé-Colls foreman and partner. He continued the company in the tradition of its founder until its liquidation in 1931.
The (new) choir organ in St. Nikolai is a representative example of 19th century French organ building and contains a completely
preserved mechanical playing cabinet. In addition, it is electrically connected to the console of the main organ. This enables both instruments to be played at the same time. The apparatus of the electric double action has been incorporated with consideration for protection of the instrument‘s historicity and can be removed very easily.
Translation: Elizabeth Gahbler