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Hansjörg Albrecht Pictures from Russia: Three Organ Transcriptions OC 632 SACD
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FormatSuper Audio CD
Ordering NumberOC 632
Release date03/09/2008
Players/ContributorsMusicians Composer
  • Mussorgsky, Modest
  • Rachmaninov, Sergei
  • Stravinsky, Igor

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      Description hide

      Transcriptions for Organ of Famous Works by Russian Composers
      Three Organ Transcriptions

      Mussorgsky: Bilder einer Ausstellung · Rachmaninov: Die Toteninsel · Strawinsky: Drei Tänze aus “Petruschka”
      Hansjörg Albrecht, organ

      The man most certainly does not need to be introduced, as Hansjörg Albrecht meanwhile has become one of the great organ players of his generation. One of his specialities is that he transcribes works originally not written to be played on the organ at all. OehmsClassics has already published excerpts from Richard Wagner’s Ring of the Nibelung as well as the Goldberg Variations by Johann Sebastian Bach. For his third recording of works transcribed for organ, Hansjörg Albrecht decided to take on some Russian classicists, and so we can now enjoy listening to Modest Mussorgsky’s Pictures of an Exhibition. The composer originally wrote his cycle for the piano; Maurice Ravel added an arrangement for orchestra. Sergey Rachmaninov, however, expressly wrote his Isle of the Dead for an entire orchestra. This symphonic poem is a musical rendering of Arnold Böcklin’s famous picture with the same title. In 1911, Igor Stravinsky in his turn caused an absolute scandal with his Petrushka, arranged for a large orchestra: the motor rhythms seemed too bold indeed. As was the case for the previous recordings, the recordings are high-end SACD recordings.

      Pictures from Russia

      Churches and cloisters with gilded onion towers and Orthodox crosses visible for miles around. Endless expanses with lakes gleaming blue-green and light birch forests in summer and sleighs decorated with bells in countrysides covered with deep snow in winter. Harsh contrasts between monstrous palaces and manorhouses in cities like Moscow, St Petersburg and Kiev and humble wooden huts down in the country. Bishops in long robes embroidered with gold, priests and simply-dressed farmers with long, flowing beards, boyars in costly furs, Cossacks and mounted soldiers, boisterous children, young girls in elaborately embroidered garments and old babushkas in sacking, begging. Garlic, vodka, caviar. Roubles, gold and diamonds. Illiteracy and serfdom, as well as a perfidious and perfectly functioning system of corruption within the class society and the famous remark “nu shto?” – “What now? (Oh well ...)” And through all this colourful feudal-medieval hubbub, the sound of bells and Orthodox chant, connected with an eternal belief in a better world.

      The transcriptions of large nineteenth- and twentieth-century symphonic piano and orchestral works presented here portray a varied picture of this time and depict the yearning and the search for what is typically Russian in music, although each of the three composers very much went his own way:

      Modest Mussorgsky (1839–1881), perhaps the most nationally-minded of them, taught himself to compose, despised all “civilized European music” and in a very personal manner introduced the earthiness of Russian folk music into his musical creations. There is today a tendency to return to his original versions, with their melodies dominated by the church modes and their stamping rhythms. He died alcoholdependent and completely poverty-stricken in a St Petersburg military hospital.

      Sergei Rachmaninov (1839–1881), like his model Tchaikovsky, followed western trends and used Russian elements more as added colouring. He emigrated to the United States, where he performed his famous C sharp minor Prelude countless times and even saw his works incorporated into films. Despite his fame as a pianist and conductor, like so many Russians in foreign places, he suffered from homesickness for the rest of his life.

      Igor Stravinsky (1839–1881), a colourful citizen of the world and bohemian who lived at various times in Russia, France, Switzerland and the USA, never committed himself to a single manner of composing and literally played with all the twentieth-century styles. But he too was deeply influenced by “Mother Russia”: Russian folk music and wild, exuberant dances dominate the idiom of his first major works.

      Russia – an organ country?

      Yes and no. The Orthodox liturgical tradition has never allowed the use of instruments in its services. Nonetheless, from the beginning of the nineteenth century mainly foreign firms were building large organs in concert halls and conservatories. The most famous example is undoubtedly the symphonic organ installed by the Paris organ builder Cavaillé-Coll in the concert hall of the Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatory in 1899. Unlike here in Central Europe at present, the organ as a concert instrument still exercises great fascination in Russia. I have moreover personally been powerfully attracted to Russia and its culture in particular for many years. It was therefore a dream come true to stretch the organ once more to its musical and technical limits in these three so very differently disposed Russian works arranged for the instrument. Extremely fine dynamic gradations (using almost 1000 tonal combinations) and sometimes very modern sounds show the “King of Instruments” in fascinating garb. The result is a large “symphonic poem” in three parts, starting with a larger-than-life introduction (Pictures at an Exhibition), a pastel-like intermezzo scintillating in Impressionist manner (The Isle of the Dead) and a three-part final movement (Petrushka), which leads into a fairground carousel which spins ever faster, drowned out by the clangour of the bells.

      Hansjörg Albrecht

      Pictures at an Exhibition

      Pictures at an Exhibition – actually a piano work Mussorgsky wrote in memory of his friend, the architect, draughtsman and painter Viktor Alexandrovich Hartmann – is one of the most important works in the entire repertoire. The composer did not live to experience its success all over the world. It was published for the first time in 1886. The popularity the work achieved in the twentieth century was largely

      due to the opulent orchestral version Maurice Ravel created in 1922. In 1931 Pictures at an Exhibition was included in a complete edition of Mussorgsky’s works, and numerous reprints and arrangements followed for a wide variety of instruments and ensembles – including the organ. The Pictures were not without influence upon the fine arts. In 1928 the Russian painter Vasily Kandinsky accepted a commission from the Anhalt Theatre of Dessau to transform Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition into “moving pictures”.

      In 1874 the St Petersburg Architectural Association organized a memorial exhibition of Hartmann’s works in the halls of the Academy of the Arts. It was that exhibition which inspired Mussorgsky’s work, as is reflected in the final title of the work.

      Comparing the Pictures at an Exhibition with the original pictures illuminates the composer’s way of thinking. Even the selection Mussorgsky made is revealing, for he chose a collection of drawings and watercolours which Hartmann had made on his journeys abroad and which consisted of sketches of life in various countries, portraits of passers-by, landscapes of architecturchestral al monuments and ruins, etc. Mussorgsky, who constantly strove to represent life – “wherever it reveals itself ” – in music, saw this collection of pictures as a suitable starting-point for creating a comprehensive panorama of reality. Interestingly, however, the variety of themes making up that collection was not wide enough for him, and he added some of Hartmann’s works in other genres (sketches for a Christmas tree decoration [The Gnome], an ornamental clock [The Hut of Baba-Yaga], stage costumes [Ballet of the unhatched chicks] etc.). Reality was joined by fantasy, especially that of the Russian folk-tale in the form of the witch Baba-Yaga. Mussorgsky also used one of Hartmann’s architectural drafts of a gate for the city of Kiev to complete a gallery which was both colourful and varied.

      The composition is based upon something like the suite form, with “pictures” replacing the dances of the traditional suite. In order to show the variety of life, Mussorgsky resorted to brusque, abrupt contrasts and incisive changes in a loose mixture of pleasure and suffering, humour and tragedy and reflections on life and death. It was his intention to create a sequence representing the characters of various nations, with the Russian national character playing a leading role. In the process, he disregarded the unity of time and place, juxtaposing contemporary pictures with ones from the distant past – from the Middle Ages and from the old Russian principality of Kiev.

      With their far-reaching renewal of means of musical expression, the Pictures at an Exhibition were to nineteenth-century piano music a leap into new, unexplored territory. The Promenade which opens the work and threads through it like a leitmotiv is based on Russian peasant song and, as is usual in Russian folk music, begins with a precentor and is answered by a choir (“speaking song”). Spanning a large arch, the work ends on a hymn to the fame of the Russian people in the form of a scene from life in old Kiev. Mussorgsky here came close to the epic treatment and sublimity of his contemporary Borodin and showed himself to be a true successor to Glinka. The work closes with a “symphony” of pealing bells and a mighty recapitulation of the opening theme.

      Dietz-Rüdiger Moser

      Reference: Commentary by Dr Emilia Fried on Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, Moscow (Verlag Musik) 1982.

      “The Isle of the Dead” in painting and music

      The Isle of the Dead is the title of a famous painting by the Swiss artist Arnold Böcklin, who produced five versions between 1880 and 1886. The work combines his own impressions of landscapes, perhaps from the area around Dubrovnik, with ancient Greek notions of life hereafter, particularly the belief in the ferryman Charon, who rows the dead over the Styx to Hades in his ferry.

      The picture is technically a landscape: “From the darkness of the almost motionless sea, precipitous, magically lit rocks loom into the dark night

      sky. A dense group of tall cypresses forms the central focus. The strange island, far from civilization, dominates the scene and imparts symmetrical structure. The horizon of the sea is seen to the right and left of it, which greatly heightens the impression of isolation. The entrance to the harbour betrays the work of human hands, with burial chambers hewn into the rock, terraced reinforcements and light-coloured masonry to the left which almost seems to be one with the rock. Across the bows of a rowing boat there lies a coffin with a statuesque, mummy-like figure shrouded in white cloth standing behind it and facing the island; seated behind him is the ferryman, rowing slowly over the water. The idea of the soft sound of oars dipping into the quiet water at the same time makes the silence perceptible” (Franz Zelger), something which Böcklin explicitly stated he wanted this painting to express. The picture represents a solemn and worthy parting from life.

      The theme was taken up musically many times. In 1898 the Swedish conductor, composer and impresario Johan Andreas Hallén wrote a symphonic poem called The Isle of the Dead; in the following year, 1909, Sergei Rachmaninov followed it up with a corresponding composition (Ostrov myortvikh); Max Reger followed suit (Romantic Suite – four tone poems after Arnold Böcklin, no. 3, The Isle of the Dead), as did the Lisztian Heinrich Schulz-Beuthen (The Isle of the Dead) and Brahms’s friend Felix Woyrsch (1860–1944) with Three Böcklin Fantasies for full orchestra op. 53.

      Sergei Rachmaninov encountered Böcklin’s painting at an exhibition in Paris in 1907 (some sources maintain he only saw a black and white photo). His symphonic poem The Isle of the Dead, which he completed in Dresden in 1909 and which effectively represents a continuation of Wagner’s Prelude to Tristan and Isolde (the “search for the endless melody”), begins with the depiction of Charon’s oar movements as he crosses the Styx. For the purpose, Rachmaninov used a figure in 5/8 time which is met up with elsewhere in his works and which here not only depicts the motions of the water, but also appears as a quotation from the “Dies irae” of the requiem mass. Then he depicts the hovering between life and death, the flowing transition to the hereafter. The work has been credited with a resigned and elegiac quality rather than the dramatic fatalism typical of the genre and with a certain loudness through which Rachmaninov distances himself from Böcklin’s intentions.

      Dietz-Rüdiger Moser


      Franz Zelger, “The Isle of the Dead”, in: Arnold Böcklin. Catalogue for the exhibition at the Public Art Collection in Basel, the Musée d’Orsay in Paris and the Neue Pinakothek in Munich, Heidelberg 2001
      Rolf Andree: Arnold Böcklin, die Gemälde. Basel/Munich 1977, 2nd edition

      “Petrushka ”

      Igor Stravinsky, one of the most versatile and influential composers of the twentieth century, initially attained international fame with three ballets he wrote between 1910 and 1913 for Dyagilev’s newly founded Ballets russes in Paris: The Firebird, The Rite of Spring and, in 1911, Petrushka. The premiere of the one-act ballet (four scenes) took place in Paris on June 13, 1911 under the title Pétrouchka. Originally planned as a piece for piano and orchestra, it underwent a revision in 1947 which reduced the size of the orchestra; that is the version which is mostly performed today.

      In Russian puppet theatre, Petrushka is a grotesque figure comparable with Punch and Pulcinella, frequently made from straw and a small bag of

      sawdust as body, with a long nose, red clothing and a kolpak or high-crowned Hussar hat.

      The action of the ballet takes place in St Petersburg during Maslenitsa, or Butter Week – seven days of boisterous, carnivalesque activities before the onset of the Orthodox Lent, during which the people abstain from eating meat, but are allowed milk. A magician appears at the festival and presents three dolls – a ballerina, a Moor and Petrushka – into which he breathes life through magical music from his flute before the eyes of the amazed people. At his command, the three perform a wild dance (Danse russe), but coming to life also arouses human passions in them, and the drama runs its course. Petrushka, unhappy at being a puppet, loves the ballerina, but she only has eyes for the strong, somewhat naive Moor. The pair’s harmonious but slightly ponderous dance scene in the room of the Moor is interrupted by Petrushka, who bursts in and jealously attacks his much stronger rival. The inevitable happens: pursued by the Moor, Petrushka must flee as fast as his legs can carry him.

      Back at the feast (La semaine grasse), all manner of colourful people emerge: tradesmen, showmen and a peasant with a bear, while a coachman and a nursemaid dance. Suddenly Petrushka appears with the Moor hot on his heels: a duel ensues in which the Moor kills Petrushka. The magician attempts to assuage the incensed crowd – it was only dolls, after all, among whom the drama unrolled! But that evening, when he wants to get rid of the now unusable doll, Petrushka’s menacing spirit appears to him.

      lfm / Dietz-Rüdiger Moser
      Translation: J & M Berridge

      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 orchestralsymphonic 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 preservation order.

      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

      Tracklist hide

      SACD 1
      • MODEST MUSSORGSKY (1839–1881)
        Bilder einer Ausstellung · Pictures of an Exhibition
        (Organ transcription by Hansjörg Albrecht)
        • 1.Promenade01:36
        • 2.Gnomus (The Gnome)02:55
        • 3.Promenade01:03
        • 4.Il vecchio castello (The Old Castle)04:29
        • 5.Promenade00:30
        • 6.Tuileries – Dispute d’enfants après jeux (Tuileries – Dispute between Children at Play)01:03
        • 7.Bydlo (Cattle)03:23
        • 8.Promenade00:54
        • 9.Ballett der Küken in ihren Eierschalen (Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks)01:32
        • 10.Samuel Goldenberg und Schmuyle (Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuyle)02:07
        • 11.Limoges. Le marché (The Market at Limoges)01:46
        • 12.Catacombae – Cum mortis in lingua mortua (The Catacombs – With the Dead in a Dead Language)04:41
        • 13.Die Hütte der Baba-Yaga (The Hut of Baba-Yaga)03:41
        • 14.Das große Tor von Kiew (The Great Gate of Kiev)06:27
      • SERGEI RACHMANINOV (1873–1843)
        Die Toteninsel, Tondichtung op. 29
        • 15.The Isle of the Dead, tone poem op. 29
          (Organ transcription by Axel Langmann)
      • IGOR STRAVINSKY (1882–1871)
        Drei Tänze aus „Petrouchka“
        Three dances from the ballet “Petrushka” (Organ transcription by Hansjörg Albrecht)
        • 16.Danse russe (Russian Dance)03:44
        • 17.Chez Pétrouchka (Petrushka’s Cell)05:28
        • 18.La semaine grasse (The shrove-tide)13:04
      • Total:01:19:56