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Commotio – organ works of the interwar period

CD cover Christian Wilson, Commotio by Acis

Christian Wilson

Stahlhuth 1912 / Jann 2002 Organ
St. Martin’s Church, Dudelange, Luxembourg


Commotio

1. Oskar Lindberg, Organ Sonata in G minor, op.23, Marcia elegiaca
2. Oskar Lindberg, Organ Sonata in G minor, op.23, Adagio
3. Oskar Lindberg, Organ Sonata in G minor, op.23, Alla sarabanda
4. Oskar Lindberg, Organ Sonata in G minor, op.23, Finale: Allegro con brio
5. Le Banquet Céleste, Olivier Messiaen
6. Toccata in E minor, Hans, Gál
7. Scherzo, Maurice Duruflé
8. Commotio, Carl Nielsen

‘Never such innocence again,’ wrote Philip Larkin at the end of MCMXIV, his haunting poetic commemoration of The Great War from a British perspective. It is natural nowadays to see that conflict not only as an apocalyptic destruction of human life, but also as the sweeping away of an old order. The Great War landed on top of a prior state of unrest. Schoenberg’s twelve-note serialism acquired so durable an iconic status, and was emulated by so many, that one is easily misled into an ‘all or nothing’ overview: either a composer was atonal, or he/she wasn’t. This misses the essential truth that tonality is not an ‘in or out’ club, but a spectrum of subtly differentiated shades. That, in a nutshell, remains probably the best way to view and hear the transitional serious Western art music of the inter-war years, whatever the wider structural concerns of composers experimenting with the erosion of tonality as they searched for fresh, potent means of expression. The composers represented on this disc vary considerably in how far they embraced an inherited notion of ‘tonality’ and their output is contextualized by the mechanized horrors of the First World War, and the gathering storm clouds of the Second.

Christian Wilson’s virtuoso performances mark him as one of the most unusual and exciting organists of his generation. He has performed as a soloist throughout Europe, the USA and Australia and appears regularly on BBC radio and other European stations. Praised for his wonderful technique…with clear-sighted intelligence (Journal of the British Music Society) and incredibly imaginative accompaniment, (BBC Radio 3) Christian’s career celebrates the diversity of his instrument, performing repertoire from the 14th century to the present day, and advocating the art of organ transcription. He has a particular affinity and interest in historical performance practices, and in repertoire neglected through unavoidable circumstance or waning fashions. Christian’s musical career began at Westminster Abbey, where he had already accompanied a number of choral services in his final year as head chorister. He spent a year as Sub-Organist at Perth Cathedral (Western Australia) before taking up the Organ Scholarship at Christ Church, Oxford. Following undergraduate studies, he took a combined performance and research degree investigating the pre-Reformation English organ and winning various prizes. In 2006 Christian was awarded the Nicholas Danby Scholarship and a Wingate Scholarship for study abroad, taking the Solo Postgraduate Diploma at the Hochschule für Musik in Stuttgart in 2008, where he studied with Jon Laukvik and Ludger Lohmann. Christian is Organist of the Chapels Royal, HM the Tower of London. In 2012, he became the eighth person in the world to perform Francis Pott’s epic Organ Symphony, Christus (widely considered the ‘Everest’ of the organ repertory) with performances in Germany and the UK. His numerous and well-received transcriptions range from works by Bach and Mendelssohn to the 24 Preludes and Fugues by Shostakovich.

Reviews:

…”it is excellently produced: very good selection of material, expertly and artistically played, and beautifully recorded – great frequency response and dynamic range!”
WALTER SCOTT MURCH, Oscar-winning film editor and sound designer

“This fascinating programme, obliquely commemorating WWI, evokes a world in turmoil, like a pack of cards thrown into the air and hardly re-settled: there’s hope, resignation, even denial in this music – works that emerge from the background of newly industrialised warfare as well as reaching beyond to the eternal. Hans Gal, before he sought refuge in Scotland, is represented by a beautifully-shaped, affirmative work from the time when he was still honoured in Germany and Hungary, land of his birth. Two translucent French works form weightless foils to the undertone of marching jackboots: the cosmic shimmering of Messiaen and the filigree phrases of an unwontedly Terpsichorean Duruflé. The colourful, episodic, almost cinematic quality of Lindberg’s Sonata in G minor pins the listener to the seat for its full 20 minutes.”

“Some of this music begs the question: do we load it with emotional significance because we know what was to come? Nielson’s vast architectural edifice, Commotio, almost the last will and testament of a composer staring the Grim Reaper in the face, counters that subjectivity with its contrapuntal energy and intellectual rigour – a massively powerful work from a master of orchestral writing who understood that the organ is not itself an orchestra. This particular instrument is aptly located between combatants in Luxembourg. Built by Stahlhuth of Aachen (1912), another location resonating with wartime significance, it underwent a magnificent second rebuild by Thomas Jann in 2002. Wilson exploits its vast range of colours with taste and an exquisitely-judged appreciation of the dramatic. He owns every note and, in a gloriously lively acoustic, his magisterial playing is enhanced by the excellent recorded perspective, immediacy and remarkably wide dynamic range.”
REBECCA TAVENER, The Organists’ Review, December 2017

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