SOME  PERSONAL RECOLLECTIONS OF THE IAO CONGRESS

                             COLOGNE, 24 - 29 July 2006. 

 

Introduction.

The 2006 Incorporated Association of Organists Congress was centred at the

Dorit Sofitel Hotel in Cologne. Accommodation and organisation were in keeping with the continuing high standards of the IAO. Some 185 delegates attended the Congress.

 

During the five days of the Congress the intensive programme included no less than 13 organ recitals, 2 lectures, a cruise on the Rhine, a tour of the Klais Organ Works, a potted version of a Handel Oratorio and a wine tasting. The Congress will be remembered not only for the superb performances of the soloists and the variety of the programmes but for the interesting venues, the intense heat, the cobbled streets and the food. The last mentioned was liberal and consistently appetizing.

 

The music of Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, composer, organist and pianist, was very much to the fore during the Congress; a composition by him was included in each recital.

 

Monday 24 July.

Monday was a day for travelling for some and, due to a delayed Eurostar, we were not able to hear the recital by Gerhard Blum, Resident Organist at St Kunibert, Cologne; although by all accounts it was, as one would expect, a fore-taste of the excellent performances to follow.


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Tuesday 25 July.

This was an exceptionally full day commencing with a 30 minute drive to Bonn to hear Johannes Geffert, Professor of Organ and Improvisation at Cologne Conservatoire, give the Brereton Memorial Recital on the Klais organ at St Elizabeth. His interesting programme included works by Schumann, Canonic Studies and Two Sketches from Opus 58, Sinding, Andante from Piano Quintet No 5, a Partita in 4 Verses by Arnold Mendelssohn, a great nephew of Felix, and concluded with a fine performance of Mendelssohn's Prelude and Fugue in E Minor. We were to become familiar with the 'Klais' sound before the end of the Congress.


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The next stop was Schwarzrheindorf and the Church of St Maria and St Clemens. The building  was on two levels, effectively one church above the other. The organ was on the upper floor, access being gained by a narrow winding staircase. The ground floor could be observed through a large railed gallery.


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 The church was decorated with elaborately painted walls and ceiling with a small, brilliant, apparently modern stained glass window on the upper floor.


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The 1728 Stumm organ had been restored by Klais in 1967. It was unique in  that the two manuals, pedals and drawstops were inside the organ. The organist would thus effectively be playing inside a large box with pipes in front, behind and above. In the event the recital, again given by Johannes Geffert, was played on a detached electric console (with 3168 general combinations!) provided by Klais in 1997, situated just a few feet from the ornate pipe front. Delegates who had been quick or agile enough to mount the spiral staircase early were seated cosily around the console and the organ, the remainder were listening on the ground floor.
 

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The recital included a short Prelude composed for her wedding by Fanny Hensel, the talented sister of  Mendelssohn, and ended with a stirring account of Mendelssohn's Prelude and Fugue in C Minor. The performance was precise, the clarity of the stops unaffected at close range by the acoustic of the building. Following the recital we got into a good humoured muddle with those below trying to get up the staircase to see the organ and those on the upper floor trying to get to the ground floor. No doubt, given time to explore, a more convenient way to reach the upper floor would have been discovered. 

 

We returned to Cologne, found a convenient restaurant for lunch and then walked to St Gereon to hear Christian Wilson, an ex pupil of David Sanger. He played Mendelssohn's Sonata in A, a contrasting piece by Byrd entitled Ut, re, mi, fa, so, la and Karl Elert's Passacalia and Fugue on BACH. The overall effect was of a somewhat overpowering organ with fierce reeds - not a 'Mendelssohn' organ. The organ was built by Klais in 1910 and restored by the same company in 1990.

 

Another walk in the enervating heat over cobbled streets brought us to St Ursula to hear James Kennerly, organ scholar of St Paul's Cathedral who had also studied with David Sanger. His recital included Mendelssohn's Sonata in B, a Prelude in C by Buxtehude with some difficult but well executed pedal passages, an unusual but stirring Toccata and Fugue by Peter Eben, two Bach Chorale Preludes and a masterly performance of Mozart's Fantasia in F minor. The organ was built by Joseph Weimbs in 2001. It was noted that 5 out of the 7 pedal stops were borrowed from the Hauptwerk and there was a stop labeled 'Sedez 1' on the Ruckpositive - not very familiar to say the least.


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The culmination of a long day was a recital on the Klais Nave Organ perched high on the north wall of Cologne Cathedral, St Peter. We were requested to be in our seats at least one hour before the recital started. This appeared to be a somewhat unnecessary precaution in a cathedral so vast but in the event all available the seats were quickly taken. Regular listeners brought along cushions or folding chairs and it was not long before every conceivable space was filled. Some said two thousand were there, others three thousand, but it was pleasing to see so many people, young and old assembled for an organ recital. The first two pieces played by the Cathedral Organist Winfried Bonig were exciting performances of Listz's Prelude and Fugue on BACH and Durufle's Prelude and Fugue on the name d'Alain. The third piece was memorable  for its length and apparent lack of form. Max Reger's Variation and Fugue on a theme of Mozart did not appear to be the sort of piece to fire the enthusiasm of such a huge audience - but then this is a personal view.

 

Encores followed; the Flight of the Bumblebee, remarkable  for its clarity in such a huge space, and March from the Fireworks Music by Handel, the high pressure tubas en chemade in the west end featuring prominently in the last piece. The heat was intense, the pews very hard but the huge organ sound amply and satisfyingly filled the cathedral. It was certainly a recital to remember. From the specification it was noted that the organist has access to no less than one million combinations, surely more than enough for even the most demanding of soloists.


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Wednesday 26 July.

<>Our visit to Beethoven's House in Bonne was interesting. We assembled next door to the House in an auditorium with steeply tiered and comfortable seats. At floor level was a grand piano (a  Bosendorfer?) Perhaps we would hear at least a few bars of Beethoven's works on such a splendid instrument but, in the event, an introductory talk about the House and about Beethoven's life was given by the curator before we were led next door to the House proper.

 

It was very crowded and remarkably hot. We listened to a demonstration of a forte piano, an instrument which Beethoven would have used. It had a complement of five pedals to give various volumes of sound and a bass drum to enhance orchestral transcriptions. There followed a relatively slow shuffle through the crowded House to see some interesting manuscripts and letters; and eventually, despite the heat and the crowds, it was a unique and very special experience to be standing in the very room where Beethoven was born. It is difficult to conceive that he wrote so much wonderful music when he was profoundly deaf. Such is genius.

 

<>Following the visit to Beethoven's House we walked a short distance down the street to Namen-Jesu-Kirche, a church where the present Pope officiated prior to his appointment in Rome. Catherine Ennis introduced The Reduced Handel Company, numbering a total of one, internationally renowned soprano Elisabeth Priday. With Catherine Ennis accompanying on the organ, Elizabeth Priday narrated the story of Handel's Judas Maccabaeus singing the soprano and other parts as appropriate. The results were quite remarkable, Elizabeth Priday's voice soaring in the ideal acoustic perfectly balanced by the careful selection of  stops on the organ. The future of this beautiful church is at present in question as it is not now consecrated.


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We then proceeded through cobbled streets to embark on the river- boat Asbach (an appropriate name) for a short cruise on the Rhine. An excellent lunch was included, leisurely partaken as the boat cruised slowly down the river. Following the meal, William McVicker, Chairman of the Association of  Independent Organ Advisors,  presented the RCO Lecture, Continental Organs; The Empire Strikes Back. There was no getting away from the lecture which was broadcast throughout the ship both inside and out. It says much for William McVicker's vigorous presentation on the relative organ cultures in the UK and Germany that even following such a full lunch he managed to hold the attention of the audience throughout and received a rousing round of applause on completion. As we left the Asbach we were pleased to see the coaches parked adjacent to the landing stage.

 

After a short coach ride we arrived at the Klais Organ works. The temperature was such that the first priority was to queue for welcome glasses of water and lager which the company had thoughtfully provided. We assembled in an attractive courtyard for a short introductory talk by Philip Klais. We were given the option of either joining organized parties with a guide or to wander at will through the numerous well organized workshops where we could see organs in various stages of construction. Four organs were under construction, all for overseas venues including one for Beijing. One was struck by the orderliness and cleanliness of the works and the precision of the woodwork.

 

All was there to see without restriction from the seasoned logs which would eventually be sawn and planed to form pipes, stacks of crated pipes labeled Caracas, to a partly assembled console showing the detail and precision of modern tracker action. It was interesting to see the detailed miniature models of organs which were produced in the past to show clients what the completed organ would look like and to contrast these with the Computer Aided Design Suite with facilities to produce and modify layouts and plans at the touch of a button. The visit forcibly brought home the ingenuity and complexity of the modern organ. Also of interest was the fact that research was taking place to find materials which the termites and other bugs present in tropical countries did not enjoy eating. Some overseas organ actions had been attacked by such insects, to their detriment.

 

Following the tour we were provided with a tasty light meal, more liquid refreshment, and as an added bonus, Elizabeth Priday standing on a bench in the courtyard, gave us a short recital of Gershwin songs accompanied by Catherine Ennis on the piano in the adjacent Klais apartment.

 

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Thursday 27 July.

The day commenced with 50 minute drive to Schleiden some 60 Km from Cologne. The recital in the Church of St Philipus and St Jakobus was given by Michael Gassman, a freelance journalist and international organist. He commenced with a Voluntary in G Minor by John Bennet, a gentle rambling Fugue in C Minor by Samuel Wesley, another composition by Bennet and concluded with Mendelssohn's Prelude and Fugue in D minor. An immaculate performance on an organ with particular clarity. The 1770 Konig organ had been restored by Joseph Wiembs in 1983.


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<>We were then driven to Steinfield where we enjoyed a buffet lunch in a restaurant adjacent to the entrance to the Monastery where the Klosterkirche was situated. Klosterkirche was a magnificently decorated baroque church; the Koenig organ was built in 1727 and restored during the period 1977-1981 by Weimbs. The recital was given by Daniel Hyde, an FRCO at the age of 16 and currently director of Chapel Music at Jesus College. He commenced with Bach's Prelude in E Flat, continued with the obligatory Mendelssohn -  Sonata No 2, and a composition by Ad Wammes, (a contemporary Dutch composer) called Miroir. Contrary to (my) expectations this piece was not particularly discordant and was played on the flutes with a continuous repetitive pattern of notes in the right hand and complicated cross rhythms. The recital ended with a Bach Sonata No 5 and his Fugue in E Flat,  (St Anne). Overall a most satisfying performance on a splendid organ.
 

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A half hour drive through delightful countryside brought us to Neiderehe and St Loedegar to hear Catherine Ennis playing the 1770 Konig organ restored by Weimbs in 1987/88. An organ of modest specification with 10 stops on the single manual and 3 stops on the pedals, Catherine Ennis demonstrated her mastery of the organ choosing stops to maximum effect in a bouncy Fugue in C by Buxtehude, a contrasting set of German and English renaissance dances, a quiet Aria Sebaldina by Pechelbel, and Mendelssohn's Andante in D. She concluded with Bach's Prelude and Fugue in D Minor and D Major from the Well Tempered Clavier, Book 2. It was a most enjoyable performance. It was noted that the organ was tuned to mean tone temperament.

 

We returned to the hotel for an excellent dinner and it was there, in the dining room, that Guido Graumann, organ builder and consultant set up screen and projector and bravely launched into a lecture on The Organs of Mendelssohn's Time. Despite a full day and a good meal he held his audience to the end and received a well deserved round of applause.

 

Friday 28 July.

We drove for an hour through the picturesque forested countryside to Sayn, Abteikirche, to hear Daniel Hyde  and Guido Graumann in duet playing the 1778 Stumm organ restored by Klais in 1996. The first piece was a duet by Mendelssohn, Fugue in D Major, an enjoyable piece, not immediately apparent as a duet. There followed 7 Duets for Eliza by Samuel Wesley illustrating the range of stops on the organ. The final piece was Mendelssohn's Duet Fugue in D minor, full organ in contrast to the previous works. It was noted that the Positive  sported a 'Pordong 8'. ('Spell check' had a field day with this one).

 

Following this recital we had a half hour drive to Maria Laach, Abteikirche. A substantial packed lunch was awaiting us for collection from an hotel near to the church. As we settled down to lunch in the grounds of the hotel the rains came giving a welcome relief to the heat, but drenching those who had not come prepared.

 

Abteikirche has two organs, a 1910 Transept Organ restored by Klais in 2000, and a Choir Organ built by Klais in 1998. The Choir Organ was heard first, played by Guido Graumann. His recital included works by Carl Philip Emanual Bach, Reger's Jesus, mein Zuversich during which an intrusive  tremulent was used which was something of a distraction. Mendelssohn was represented by Sanft, mit Empfindung Op 7/1.
 

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<>Following this recital, Daniel Moult, an organ tutor at the Royal College of music, played on the Nave Organ. A somewhat noisy Mendelssohn's Sonata No 7 was followed by Schumann's Fugue based on the name BACH. The final piece was a virtuoso performance of Max Reger's Fantasia and Fugue on BACH  culminating in an almost overwhelming volume of sound. The church was open to the public and it was pleasing to see that many of those who came to see the church quietly gathered folding chairs and sat and listened to the recital.   

 

As if this was not enough for one day we were driven through the picturesque North German countryside to Kloster Marienthal, a vineyard, where we tasted six samples of excellent German wine and partook of a substantial buffet meal in delightful surroundings, a sociable and fitting end to Congress.

 

Conclusion.

So ended a busy Congress; interesting and beautiful venues, organs ranging from 1770 to the present day, a feast of enjoyable music all thoughtfully organized by our ever-present and indefatigable President, Catherine Ennis CatherineEnnis


and her dedicated team. The well produced Congress Handbook included not only the programme of the Congress but also the specifications and photographs of the organs.

 

As always it was a pleasure to meet old friends again, not forgetting those who could not be present with us this year.

 

David Ball. Bexley and District Organists' and Choirmasters' Association.DavidBall

August 2006. (Rev 1)