Installed in Fall of 1999, the new Paul Fritts organ at Church of the Ascension (Episcopal) in the Magnolia neighborhood of Seattle is built in classical north German/Dutch style. This style of organbuilding was established by Arp Schnitger of Hamburg in the 17th century and remained the standard style of organ building of the north through most of the nineteenth century. The Schnitgerian organ is ideal for supporting strong congregational singing, and playing of almost three centuries of north European organ literature. Fritts successfully captured the Schnitgerian aesthetic in the organ at Church of the Ascension, the first built after his magnum opus at Lagerquist Hall on the campus of Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma (see Loft Recordings LRCD 1025, "One of a Kind", William Porter playing the works of J.S. Bach).
At Ascension, the organ has three generously appointed divisions: the Hauptwerk, located immediately above the impost level; the Oberwerk, located at the top of the case next to the ceiling; and the Pedal, whose pipes are in the back of the case. Each division has its own keyboard, windchest, and pipework. Wind (air pressure) is supplied by bellows mounted to the basement ceiling below the instrument, and can be pumped by foot treadles in the sacristy. (An electric blower is also provided). A solid oak case provides a warm resonance to the sound and projects it into the room. Ornamental wood carvings memorialize the demise of the preceding instrument, which was rendered unplayable by rats who ate through electrical wires. Other carvings commemorate Holy Communion, with symbols of grain, grapes and cherubs. The carvings were designed and executed by the builder's sister, Jude Fritts.
The new organ at Ascension brought German organist Harald Vogel to Seattle to play two duplicate recitals in April of 2000. Vogel picked an ideal program to demonstrate this new organ, playing works that require this type of instrument to achieve their musical effects. He began with the Kerll Toccata, a piece so famous that it was the model for all south German toccatas until the end of the 18th century. Kerll's Canzona demonstrates the 4' Spitzflöte in the first section and the Trompet 8' at the end. Organist of the imperial court of Vienna, Kerll was also the teacher of Johann Pachelbel. Pachelbel's Praeludium offers an interesting contrass with the Kerll Toccata. Multiple sections of coloristic instrumental effects extend the tradition of Kerll's bravura keyboard writing to produce a more monumental, virtuosic work.
The most entertaining moment of the recital was the "premier" performance of a 17th-century work, Cantio rustica Americana, “discovered” by Professor Vogel. Based on a well-known American folksong, this anonymous piece parodies Samuel Scheidt's variations on a Dutch folksong from Tabulatura Nova (1652). The nine variations include a bicinium (variation 4), a chromatic lamento (variation 5), and Ad manuale duplex, forte et lene (for two manuals, loud and soft, variation 6). Professor Vogel explained in his introductory remarks that, although a variation marked imitatio violistica (in imitation of a violin) was standard in Scheidt's work, in this case there was one designated imitatio fiddlistica, for reasons which will be immediately apparent to the listener (variation 7).
Buxtehude and Böhm were among the most important organists of the generation before Bach. The C major Praeludium of Böhm may have been a model for the young Bach, who lived for a time in Luneburg where Böhm was organist. With only two sections (a prelude and a fugue), the Praeludium appears to be more similar in form to the works of Bach than the five section Praeludiums of his contemporaries. The Concerto by Bach is an arrangement of one written in Italian style by the young prince, Johann Ernst. Its double pedal part (with both feet playing at the same time) combined with lively keyboard figurations make it a delight to play and hear. Vogel followed the concerto with a rarely heard variant of Bach's Praeludium in g, BWV 535a, an early version of a more extensive work (BWV 535).
Vogel's program concludes with a sonata by Carl Philip Emmanuel Bach, from a collection written for a princess. Although these sonatas do not have pedal parts (the organ available to the princess had no pedals, only two manuals), they place high demands on the performer. The rapid keyboard flourishes require an accomplished technique, and the slow movements, an elegant touch.
Professor Vogel made this recording on two evenings following his recitals, and included some works here not originally played in concert. However, we could not resist including the encore from his second recital: an improvisation which captured the spirit of the event. In this spontaneous piece, the performer, instrument and audience seemed to be caught up in an ecstatic moment, a treasure to be remembered for years to come.