Andrew Benson-Wilson Sheds Light on 17th Century North German Organ Music

19/10/2017

Jacob Praetorius II & Scheidemann: Andrew Benson-Wilson (organ). Grosvenor Chapel, Mayfair, London, 17.10.2017. (CC)

Jacob Praetorius II – Praeambulum in F; Von allen Menschen abgewandt

Heinrich Scheidemann – Praeludium in F; Magnificat Sexti Toni; Alleluja, Laudem dicite Deo Nostro (after Hassler)

This fascinating lunchtime recital continues the exploration by organist Andrew Benson-Wilson of 17th century North German organ repertoire. Previous concerts have included an entire recital of music by Matthias Weckmann (1616-1674), performed at this venue in November 2016, the complete surviving organ works of Nicolaus Bruhns (1665-1697), also in Mayfair in, August 2015, and a concert of music by Heinrich Scheidemann (c1595-1663) at The Queen’s College, Oxford in June 2013.

Both composers in the present programme were pupils of the “Orpheus of Amsterdam”.  Jan Pieterzoon Sweelinck, and both went on to hold posts in Hamburg.

The organ in Grosvenor Chapel was built by William Drake of Buckfastleigh, Devon in broadly the eighteen-century English style, using the Abraham Jordan case of 1732 installed soon after the chapel was opened. All pipes, except the treble of the Stopt Diapason in the Swell, were new in 1991.

The Praetorius Praeambulum in F is, in effect, a short Prelude and Fugue, the fugal section unmissably delineated via the smaller of the two trumpet stops on the organ, a complete contrast to the warm bass of the free-form passages that preceded it. Lasting less than two minutes, the Praeambulum gave way to the more extended 12-verse chorale paraphrasing the 25th Psalm, Von allen Menschen abgewandt. This 1624 setting is divided into three verses, with the final two played without a break; the second as a chorale fantasia. No missing the chorale theme in the pedal here, nor the echoes at the octave in the chorale fantasia (the Secondus Versus), a technique the composer learned from Sweelinck. This performance conveyed the full majesty of the piece, revealing a sure grasp of structure while honouring the work’s more exploratory moments.

Heinrich Scheidemann studied with Sweelinck from 1611 until 1614. His short, sectionalised Praeludium in F is a sweet succession of segments; in contrast, the Magnificat Sexti Toni is a resplendent, large-scale work, almost regal in its opening section. Like all of Scheidemann’s Magnificat settings, it is cast in four movements (or verses). The writing is imaginative and varied texturally, especially expansive in the third verse before the bright final section rounds the piece off in virtuoso fashion. Benson-Wilson’s playing was exemplary, enabling the piece to come to a natural climax. Finally, Scheidemann’s Alleluja, Laudem dicite Deo Nostro, which is an intabulation (an organ piece created from a pre-existing work, in this case a motet by Hans Leo Hassler). This is a fabulous, joyous piece, full of exuberant flourishes, its infectious nature fully conveyed by Benson-Wilson. One awaits the next instalment of this series with some impatience: a programme of music by Melchior Schildt (d. 1667) at The Queen’s College Chapel, Oxford.

Colin Clarke

For more about Andrew Benson-Wilson click here.

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