Meeting an organ for the first time, especially if it is a fine old organ, can be an experience filled with surprises, especially if it is a fine old organ with a strong personality. Such was the case in meeting the organ at Tryserum. This organ, one of the best preserved of Pehr Schiörlin’s output, speaks with a bold and distinctive voice. Other Schiörlin organs that were known to me before this encounter, most notably Gammakil, Ostra Skrukeby, and Jonsered, are of course bold and distinctive as well, but there is a quality of the organ at Tryserum that sets it apart; that quality is perhaps best described as "wildness." Whereas the famous organ at Gammalkil speaks with a melodic elegance and courteous refinement (as can be heard on my recording, Krebs: Clavier-Übung), the organ at Tryserum is by contrast brash and energetic, as if it is determined to be intense at all costs, and not necessarily compliant. Built in 1785, twenty-one years before the organ at Gammalkil, one expects it to sound older, but its "old" sound is more of the early eighteenth century than of the 1780s. No small part of the organ’s wild behavior is due to its wind system: although the behavior of the wind in the pedal division is well grounded and essentially stable, the wind in the manual division is highly active and flexible. To the player, this is both charm and challenge, but is clearly not a defect—Schiörlin knew what he was doing. For hymn playing (the organ’s primary original function) the result is perfect: the organ plays with harmonies that are breathing and alive, supported by a firm bass line in the pedal, with reed stops having almost lightning-fast speech.
For playing "concert" repertoire, the challenge may be compared to that of trying to tame a wild horse. I went to this organ intending to record, among other things, music of C. P. E. Bach and Kittel, expecting that the organ would respond to the sweet galanterie of this music in a way similar to the later organ at Gammalkil. But at Tryserum the organ was to have none of that, and music of Böhm and Walther was quickly substituted. Walther’s partita on Jesu, meine Freude makes no extraordinary demands on the wind, and the organ was happy to oblige with a lively, melodious pipe-speech, regardless of the choice of stops. But the Böhm pieces on this CD are more demanding of the wind, and here the organ’s innate behavior meets the composer head-on. As a result, we hear—as one can hear with only a few instruments in my experience—how Böhm’s skillful use of thick textures and quick shifts of register create an effect of intense activity of sound. The wind, along with the sensitive action of the organ, gives certain ornaments the effect of bending the pitch slightly, and here and there one hears a distinct melodic portamento, with an effect that can be as moving as the portamento of a fine singer. One begins to suspect that Böhm’s music itself is rather wild, perhaps more so than most extant old instruments allow it to be. In the midst of all this somewhat eccentric behavior, one begins to hear how expressively this organ can sing. When one speaks of an instrument as being able to sing, it is in recognition that the instrument somehow transcends the normal limitations of machinery, and is able to create the impression that the music is being sounded by a living organism. The particular ways in which this organ sings are of course the result of the normal and well-conceived working processes of Pehr Schiörlin, openly observable and available to all to learn from; the music it makes is of a quality that makes a player want to keep playing, a quality that can convey both astonishment and delight to player and listener alike.
Of the Böhm pieces on this CD, the Praeludium and the Capriccio are sometimes regarded as more idiomatic to the harpsichord or clavichord than to the organ, because they are both playable without pedals and they both contain a liberal dose of broken-chord figurations. Yet however well these pieces sound on stringed keyboard instruments, neither of these characteristics can justifiably exclude them from the organ repertoire. Particularly in the Praeludium in g, the fugue, which forms the centerpiece of the work, resembles French organ fugues of that time far more than it does any aspect of the clavecin repertoire. Moreover it is usual to find in Böhm’s keyboard works characteristics of music for strings and music for pipes within the same piece, so that it is not always possible to locate his music in one category to the exclusion of the other. Rather, it is precisely that blending of characteristics which allows pieces such as this to sound dense and complex when played on the harpsichord or clavichord, and to sound very highly active when played on the organ. Similarly, the distinctly Italianate Capriccio in D has qualities which suggest both introspection and brilliance; one can say that the former quality comes to the foreground when played on either clavichord or harpsichord, while the latter clearly shines on the organ, especially when the final section is played on a strong plenum, as here at Tryserum.
The two chorale partitas on this CD allow one to contrast the eccentricity and capriciousness of Böhm with the more rational sobriety and elegance of Walther. The evidence of organized improvisation is evident in both works, yet where Böhm indulges in sudden texture contrasts, octave displacement, echo, and a variety of figure within the same variation, Walther gives us greater distinction between variations, through individual variations that are more unified in figuration and affect, with fewer internal contrasts, and greater economy of material. Yet Walther’s partita is no less poignant, and conveys an attractive serenity, up to the final variation where rising and thickening textures elicit a strong crescendo from the organ.
A unique feature of Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in d (BWV 539) is that the fugue is a transcription of a rather Italianate violin fugue by Bach—the fugue from the gminor sonata for violin (BWV 1001). Transcription in this case means transposition to d minor (to accommodate the piece to the compass of the organ), the addition of a bass part, a frequent, but not constant, thickening of the texture, and— an important feature—the addition of a rich harmonic support which is only implied in the violin version. The result is a luxuriousness of sound at key points within the fugue, which support an ever-changing "tone of voice" as the piece unfolds. It is interesting that in transcribing this fugue Bach did little to render it more "polyphonic" in adapting it to the organ; instead, Bach has provided here an enriched version of the fugue, which heightens the variety of gesture within the piece, and which strengthens its sense of narrative development, thus making it one of the most highly expressive of Bach’s organ fugues.
While the Prelude and Fugue in d looks to Bach’s Italian contemporaries for inspiration, the Pièce d’Orgue draws upon the style of the French maitres d’orgue of the same period. The "Frenchness" of this piece, however, does not have to do with its formal organization: nothing in the French repertoire corresponds to the particulars of its tripartite construction. Nor is there anything specifically French about the broken chords which dominate the outer sections, other than perhaps the way in which non-chord tones are slipped into the arpeggios. It is rather the extended middle section of the piece in which Bach adopts many characteristics of French organ preludes entitled Plein Jeu: a broad chordal texture, alla breve motion, a wealth of suspensions lending harmonic tension to the beginning of the measure, and a certain inertness of motivic material. Continuity is achieved less through melodic means than through the forward propulsion of long chains of suspended harmonies leading to cadence. But there is more. It could be said that Bach gives us in this section an object lesson in how to make a Plein Jeu above an ascending bass cantus firmus. Throughout much of this section the bass is given in whole notes moving stepwise; above this – on the downbeats – are seventh and ninth chords, strong dissonances, resolving regularly to sixth chords on the half measure, in a way that follows standard French practice of harmonizing a plainchant in the bass. Where this is not the case, a more active bass line propels the piece to the next cadence. Towards the end of the section, Bach takes this technique to its logical extreme, with a bass line ascending in whole notes for two octaves, from low d to the highest note (d1) of the typical pedal keyboard of Bach’s day. While more modest excursions of the bass can be found in the works of other composers (notably in a Cromhorne en taille of Gaspard Corrette), such an extreme occurrence is without parallel in the repertoire, French or otherwise. Of course not all organs of this period possessed this high d; the organ at Tryserum lacks it as well, and it was necessary at this point to play the d an octave lower instead. Little is lost at this moment, however, due to the strength of the movement of harmony, and it is the sweep of harmonic progression which gives this piece, like the French Plein Jeu, its nobility and charm. – WILLIAM PORTER