Scheidemann Reviews
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Selected reviews

"Scheidemann (c.1595-1663), a pupil of Sweelinck in Amsterdam, became organist at the Church of St. Katharine in Hamburg, where he enjoyed a long tenure. He was known as a charming and spirited person – something one might fail to deduce from his music…Fortunately, Gwendolyn Toth's recording skillfully and artistically presents a nice selection of his music in the very best light. She is an organist of cultivated taste, beautiful musicianship, and fluent technique. Everything she plays is rhythmically enlivened by her superb sense of pulse, and she is able to spin out Scheidemann's often intricate passagework and ornamentation flawlessly. This is really first-class organ playing in a historically grounded style, which proves that musicologically sound music-making need not be dull and dusty. Her program has been thoughtfully formulated with a view toward variety and contrast. The organ in the Jacobuskerk, Zeerijp, Holland two manuals and pedal with 19 stops, sounds delightful for this music, despite limitations in size. Although not discussed in the notes, it appears to be a modern reconstruction of a historic baroque organ. Miss Toth of new York City uses the curious Nachtegaal (bird song) stop ion the second track of this disc to celebrate a zesty combination of light flutes – a rarely heard and novel effect. Recorded sound is natural and resonant and the microphones have been optimally placed." (David Mulbury, American Record Guide, March/April 2004)

 

"A recital of Scheidemann's sacred and secular pieces could sound a little dull if performed on a modern electro-pneumatic organ.  But the colorful timbres, transparent tones and flexible wind of the 17th century Dutch organ in the Zeerijp Jacobuskerk make the music sparkle. Meantone tuning gives pungency to passing dissonances and purity to prevailing consonance. The birdsong stop adds charm to a brief chorale. The tremulant warms the serene harmonies of liturgical music. The full organ sings with baroque splendor. Toth, a former Clevelander who earned a doctorate from Yale University and now leads the Artek period instrument ensemble in New York, plays with energy, spirit and scholarship. Soprano Jessica Tranzillo sings introductory plainchants in a sweet voice that floats angelically in the resonant brick church. A well-chosen overview of Scheidemann's work, the album demonstrates the value of performing the composer's music on an instrument made for its special qualities.  [Grade:] A" (Wilma Salisbury, The Cleveland Plain Dealer, 11/23/03)

 

"Obscure, because apart from the inevitable cycle on Naxos, there are few recordings currently in the catalog solely devoted to Scheidemann's music. Special, because this recital reveals an impressively wide and varied range, from the improvisatory fantasy of the Magnificat 8 toni, the sweet innocence of the almost catchy Jesu, du wolltest und weisen(complete with Nachtegaal birdsong stop) and the sensual chromaticism of the Toccata, to the graceful gestures of the Galliarda and the ponderously powerful deep bass of Komm heiliger Geist. Scheidemann has found an ideal interpreter in Gwendolyn Toth, director and founder of New York's period instrument ensemble ARTEK, who brings to her task a compelling blend of warmth, compassion and majesty. The inclusion of soprano Jessica Tranzillo, singing bits of Gregorian chant here and there, is a nice touch. The organ is recorded with such clarity and ambience that, if Scheidemann had been a more dramatic fellow, this could have bene an audiophile classic. As it is, both the sensitive playing and sweetly tempered music and instrument could prove irresistible. Robert Mealy's learned booklet-notes explore the musical life of Hamburg in the first half of the 17th century. Charming as they are, however, I'm not sure about those birds." (Lawrence Vittes, Gramophone, November 2004)

 

"Such is the stature of Johann Sebastian Bach that for long he has overshadowed many organists and composers pre-dating him, who greatly influenced him and set the scene for his own genius to develop. Gradually, performers on the organ have become more and more interested in these composers, and the picture we now have of the 17th century organ repertoire is a more complete, and more interesting one. Thus, after Dietrich Buxtehude, Heinrich Scheidemann (c.1595-1663) seems at last to be receiving the attention he deserves and coming into his own. For 38 years, until his death in 1663, Scheidemann was organist of the beautiful Gottfried Fritzsche organ of the Katherinenkirche in Hamburg, the first-ever four-manual organ.  Hamburg, then a prosperous city with a sophisticated cultural life, enjoyed a glorious organ building tradition. Such organ builders as the Scherers, Gottfried Fritzsche, and Arp Schnitger worked there. Scheidemann was obviously influenced by the beauty of the organs at his disposal. In his 14 praeambulums, nine magnificats, numerous chorals and fantasias, fugues, and toccatas, he shows himself to have been a forward-looking composer endowed with great virtuosity. He contributed to the shapiung of new forms, such as the chorale prelude, and influenced both Buxtehude and Bach. This music can only be satisfactorily realized on appropriate instruments, especially as Scheidemann wrote for an instrument with strongly marked key characteristics, owing to its quarter-comma meantone temperament; hence Gwendolyn Toth's choice of the so-called "meantone organ" in the Jacobuskerk, Zeerijp, in Holland, for this selection of works by Scheidemann. This organ was originally built by Theodorus Faber of Groningen between 1645 and 1651, and reconstructed by Bernhard H. Edskes and S.E. Blank in 1977-9. It is a small organ of only 19 stops, with short octave, but it sounds well, especially the soft stops, some of which are well displayed by Toth. The well-known organist, considered as one of the leading performers on early instruments in North America, benefits here from the assistance of soprano Jessica Tranzillo, who sings the alternatim chant in some of the compositions. The CD actually opens with her exquisite chanting of the first "Kyrie" of Scheidemann's Kyrie Summum. This very soft and meditative beginning is one of the masterstrokes of the recording. The first two verses are played on soft stops, Toth using the tremulant for the second one ("Christe"), and this establishes a beautifully reserved and interior atmosphere. The same kind of mood also prevails in the second verse of the chorale Erbarm dich main, o Herre Gott, one of Scheidemann's most beautiful works, in which the chroale theme is presented successively in the tenor and soprano, one of the composer's common practices, before a short coda presents a dialogue between the Rückpositif and the Great…(Pierre Dubois, Fanfare Magazine, March/April 2004)

 

A short number of weeks ago I reviewed an excellent Zefiro disc by Gwendolyn Toth of Bach's Goldberg Variations played on a lautenwerk. The disc at hand takes us further back in time to the 17th Century and to the music of the masterful composer Heinrich Scheidemann. Scheidemann initially studied with this father who was the organist at the St. Katherine Church in Hamburg. At the age of fourteen, the St. Katherine congregation funded a three-year apprenticeship for Scheidemann to study in Amsterdam with the Dutch master J. P. Sweelinck. The congregation expected Scheidemann to return to Hamburg after the three years and become its organist, and Scheidemann did just that. He remained the St. Katherine organist until his death in 1663. Why would Scheidemann compose, teach, and perform in Hamburg for such a long period? Essentially, Hamburg was an economic haven during the 17th century as many merchants and artists migrated there for its religious, commercial and artistic freedoms. Scheidemann led a fine life in Hamburg and was even excused from paying taxes and other fees that ordinary citizens of the area had to contribute. Scheidemann's study with Sweelinck was a tremendous boost to his reputation, architectural proficiency and artistry. In Hamburg, Sweelinck was known as the "maker of Hamburg organists". Each of the four major churches in Hamburg had organists who had studied under Sweelinck, another being Jacob Prætorius who shared the Hamburg limelight with Scheidemann. Of these two great composers, Scheidemann was considered the more affable in personality and in music composition. He was also the more inventive composer, helping shape the chorale prelude and initiating the use of echo patterns. Scheidemann was the leading figure of the North German Organ Movement in the first half of the 17th century. His music ranges from the sublime to the majestic, set through a blend of severity and sweetness. Actually, I can't emphasize enough that this mix of severity and sweetness is at the heart of the appeal of Scheidemann's organ music, and that it is important for performers to use organs that naturally highlight the mix. Gwendolyn Toth plays her Scheidemann program on the meantone organ built by Theodorus Faber of Groningen, Holland in the years 1645-1651; reconstruction was accomplished in the late 1970s by Bernhardt H. Edskes and S.F. Blank. This is a perfect organ for Scheidemann's music in that the meantone temperament with its incisive key traits tends to result in the strengthening of both the severity and sweetness of Scheidemann's organ music. Although the Faber organ is a small one with two manuals and nineteen stops, it offers ample scope and power. Toth gives us a generous and varied group of works played in splendid fashion. Her blend of severity and sweetness is always compelling, and we are easily transported back to the Scheidemann's Hamburg. In addition to conveying the tenderness of the music, Toth also uses the full resources of the Faber organ to create strikingly majestic images so prevalent in Scheidemann's music. There are other advantageous features as well. In "Jesu, wollst Vns weisen", Toth invigorates this delightful piece with a 'bird-song' stop that is rarely encountered on other recordings. Another great touch is the use of applicable chant in three of the programmed works. Singing the chants is Jessica Tranzillo, a soprano of beautiful voice who creates all the mystery that the chant form requires. I should also add that the sound reverberation is ideal for Tranzillo…The most substantial and magnificent work is the Magnificat 6. Toni, having four verses and clocking in at over seventeen minutes in length. There is not a dull moment in this piece that is a compendium of the prevalent styles used in Scheidemann's era. In conclusion, recordings devoted to Scheidemann's organ music are infrequent. Toth's excellent disc certainly will be highly desirable to Scheidemann enthusiasts and a fine addition to those already on the market…However, you will only find the birds and sublime chant on Toth's recording. I recommend it highly to anyone wishing to become familiar with the organ music of the early 17th century." (Donald Satz, www.musicweb.uk.net)

 

"Composer: The leading figure of the North German Organ Movement of the early 17th century.

Type of Music: Wonderful blend of severity and sweetness ranging from the sublime to the majestic.

Organ: Meantone Organ built by Theodorus Faber in 1645-51, having 2 manuals and 19 stops.  Although small, it delivers all the majesty of Scheidemann's creations

Meantone: A mathematically derived temperament that enhances severity *and* sweetness.  Many websites provide a full and complicated explanation of this tuning system

Toth Performances: Splendid.

Special Features: Bird-song stop used in one of the 14 programmed works, applicable chant used in three works

Jessica Tranzillo: Gorgeous soprano voice perfect for the context

Sound Quality: Exceptional level of resonance

Conclusion: Highly desirable disc" (Donald Satz, Classical Archives, March 2004)

 

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