Sunday, February 22, 2015

Organ Music at the Cathedral of Oliwa

   Pipe organ is a specific instrument. A biggest, with one of longest presence in the history of music and relatively most expensive instrument, it certainly demands an attention. It’s dating back at least to 3rd Century B.C. no wonder historical and cultural position of organ music is a subject of continuous research. Complexity of the instrument makes insufficient our studies of composed music. We need to know technical conditions of the instrument and cultural environment of creative activity. This is what gives best organs positions of musical centers. When Johann Sebastian Bach was developing his skills, he wandered to Lübeck where Dietrich Buxtehude was organist in Marienkirche with two of most famous instruments in history. Maybe not as famous, but nevertheless significant center of religious and organ music was Cistercian Abbey of Oliwa (since 2 centuries Oliwa is a district of Gdańsk city), known for its original instrument.
   There are two instruments in Oliwa Cathedral, small organ from 1680 and great organ, with one of largest organ cases in the world constructed by Johann Wilhelm Wulff in the period between 1763 and 1788 with 83 registers and 3 manuals with mechanical tracker action. Both instruments, the small one in south wing of the transept and the great organ, were constantly being improved and reconstructed. In 1790 Friedrich Rudolf Dalitz moved console from the middle nave to north wing of matroneum, in 1863 Friedric Kaltschmidt rebuild whole instrument giving it romantic layer and in 1935 Gdańsk organ builder Joseph Goebel extended console to four manuals and rebuild traction to electro-pneumatic with wind chests. After 2nd world war, partly destroyed instrument was repaired by Fryderyk Szwarc from Kartuzy and in 1955 reconstructed by Wacław Biernacki from Cracow. Next rebuilding in years 1966-1968 was made by Zygmunt Kamiński enterprise from Warsaw.

Organ Music at the Cathedral of Oliwa (1966)

   In effect of all improvements the great organ in Oliwa has 96 registers, console with five manuals and pedalboard. Since 1935 it was connected with the choir organ and has electric tracker action. Furthermore old choir organ constructed in 1680 by Johann Georg Wulff in 2003 was exchanged with Emanuel Kemper 17-pipe organ. Now it has mechanical traction and is still connected with great organ. Jerzy Kukla replaced new choir organ putting it in 17th century organ case. This is one of the best and the biggest organs in Poland, no wonder it had so many reconstructions. Prominent position has its advantages. Organ in Oliwa Cathedral were recorded many times, and every record is a document of the sound possibilities and has historic meaning. Recordings from late 1950’s and early 1960’s show sound possibilities of great organ before its reconstruction. The collection of archival recordings published by Polskie Nagrania (XL 0299) was released in 1966, just before reconstruction of great organ.
   Program of this record has been composed probably to show the possibilities of the instrument from different points of view. Three organists play repertoire of different eras and styles from renaissance to contemporary neoromantic organ music. Bronisław Rutkowski recorded Toccata and Fugue in D Minor BWV 565 by Johann Sebastian Bach, Offertoire sur les grands jeux by François Couperin and Improvisation on the Theme of the Song “Holy God” by Mieczysław Surzyński. Feliks Rączkowski played his own Improvisation on the Theme of the Christmas Carol “In the Calm of the Night” and Polish Fantasy “Christmas Eve at Wawel Cathedral in Cracow” by Feliks Nowowiejski, postromantic composer famous in organ world for his virtuoso solo works - organ symphonies and concertos. Closing composition was Fantasia quator vocum by Polish renaissance composer Walenty Bakfark. It was recorded by Joachim Grubich. This documentary recording is still considerably interesting for artistic content and esthetic quality. The sound of great organ is clear and powerful, worth of two and half of the star.

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