60161 Liszt Organworks: A standard bearer in every way for those needing Liszt's gigantic - and subtle - organ conceptions

“A standard bearer in every way for those needing Liszt’s gigantic—and subtle--organ conceptions.”

Published on January 12, 2010

LISZT: Organ Works (complete) – Martin Haselbock, organ – NCA Multichannel SACD 60161-319 (5 discs + DVD), 319:33 and 45:00 ***** [Distr. by Naxos]:

I would be less than honest if I was to report that chugging through the complete organ works of Franz Liszt was anything less than a chore. Though recognizing that fact that he revolutionized the organ world with many of his compositions - some of the most difficult ever done for the instrument - many of these works fall into the “impressive but not very moving” category.

But Liszt, entering into the organ fray with a tremendous bang with his Fantasie and Fugue from the chorale “Ad nos, Ad salutarem undam” from the opera The Prophet by Meyerbeer created one of the most popular compositions of its time; the thing was performed some 250 times after its premiere all around Germany, Britain, and France. Today, while impressive, it lacks the punch that contemporaries must have felt, probably because The Prophet is no longer considered the masterwork it once was. But there are other works that do still send a chill up the spine: Prelude and Fugue on the name of B.A.C.H. still packs a wallop, as well as Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen and many of the transcribed late piano works. Liszt was able to successfully do for the organ what he did for the piano, and though he never learned how to play the pedals his contribution to the genre is indeed prophetic and ground-breaking—there could be no modern organ playing without him.

Long-time advocate Martin Haselbock has given us a set for the ages, complete with a 155-page glossy book in three languages that has enormous and well-researched information on each piece in the set. The accompanying DVD is an interview with him in English or German where he talks about Liszt and his organ music, does a few examples, and gives a complete performance from German television in 1986 of the Prelude and Fugue on the name of B.A.C.H. The surround sound on these discs is stunning; Haselbock has chosen to give this music on four organs of the famous maker Friedrich Ladegast (1818-1905), a man helped greatly by Liszt and whose tonality of method parallels the progress made by Liszt in his own career. The four organs used are the great organ of Merseburg (at the time the largest instrument in Germany), the Protestant Church of St. James in Kothen, the City Church of St. Peter in Hohenmolsen, and the organ in the Cathedral in Schwerin. All are terrific examples of the German romantic organ tradition, a tradition that would start to fade in 1880 with more modern techniques, though now these and other instruments like them are being restored to their former glory.

Only the organ at St. Peter’s shows any demonstrable sound differences—this one seems much more closely-recorded. The Merseburg has a magnificent decay time, and all of them are glorious in their color properties. I can think of reasons why not everyone would want the complete organ works of Liszt in their collection, but I can’t find any reason for not getting this set for those who do.

-- Steven Ritter
Audiophile Audition 12.01.2010