Sunday, 7 November 2010

Jeanne Demessieux, Günther Ramin and Páll Isólfsson (recordings from the 1950s)

This release consists of three sets of recordings. First we have yet another release with the ever inspiring Jeanne Demessieux playing the infamous J. S. Bach Toccata and fugue in d and the J.S. Bach Fantasie and fugue in g-minor from Victoria Hall in Geneva. She recorded several times at Victoria Hall in Geneva. These two pieces were recorded in September 1953 and released on Decca in 1954 on a 10 inch LP. Her version of the Toccata and fugue in d-minor is simply the most electrifying version, I’ve ever heard, and I’ve heard many recording of this piece – it rivals Alfred Sittards great rendition of it from 1928 in Hamburg.

The next two items are Günther Ramin playing Max Reger, a Deutsche Grammphon 10 inch LP from 1958. The cover states, “Thomaskantor Günther Ramin an der Beckerath-Orgel”, but it doesn’t state where, and I simply can’t find out. I’ve searched the internet, so please help me here…
I found a not-so-fond-of review from The Grammophone, July 1958, which among other things says:

“Ramin gets in a bit of a tangle on a number of occasions, and he often seems to have difficulty in playing all the notes of a chord exactly together, but he makes a brave shot at it.”

At the end, he concludes:

“Frankly Ramin has not quite the virtuoso qualities Reger asks for. But, then, who has?”

The reviewer is a little too hard on Günther Ramin in my opinion. Ramin copes quite well with the gigantic technical and musical requirements in the piece, and always rates energy and drama for technical perfection, which in my opinion is the right choice in this kind of music.

The last pieces are with the islandic organist Páll Isólfsson. He is quite unknown abroad Iceland,
I think, but I was able to find a little biography on him:

“12 October 1893-23 November 1974 - After organ studies in Germany (1913–18 with Straube at the Leipzig conservatory) and Paris (1925 with Joseph Bonnet) he returned to his native island. He became in 1938 organist of Reykjavík cathedral (till 1968), and in 1930 was appointed director of both the Reykjavík conservatory (till 1957) and the Icelandic Radio (till 1959). Apart from various capriccios, humoresques, intermezzi and other piano piece in the style of the Norwegian (another Viking race) Edvard Grieg (qv), he wrote chroruses and, in 1930, a cantata for the 1000th anniversary of the Althing (Modern Icelandic Alþingi; Old Norse Alþing), the national parliament: literally, the “all-thing”, of Iceland. Further he compiled choral compositions by others, and wrote his 2-part autobiography in 1963–64, a decade before his death. “

These three little pieces by J. S. Bach clearly show Isólfsson as a very capable organist, and since he was invited to recorded for HMV, be must have been quite an organ star. According to - he recorded other things on his visit to London in 1953, among them the J.S. Bach Toccata and fugue and Prelude and fugue in E-flat major. So to paint a more complete picture is him, we probably need recordings like these, but until now the three pieces presented here are promising and interesting.

The transfer was again masterfully done by Claus Byrith.