Second 5 stars review in Fanfare (US)

October 14, 2021

Ken Meltzer

5 stars: Organist Jens E. Christensen’s radiant exploration of Schumann’s op. 56 and 60

SCHUMANN Six Pieces in Canonic Form, op. 56. Six Fugues on the Name B-A-C-H, op. 60 • Jens E. Christensen (org) • OUR RECORDINGS 6.220675 (63:28)

A CD entitled The Roots and the Flower: Counterpoint in Bloom encompasses two Schumann works from 1845; the Six Pieces in Canonic Form, and Six Fugues on the Name B-A-C-H. They are performed by Jens E. Christensen, organist of Copenhagen’s Vor Frelsers Kirke at Christianshavn from 1989-2021. The CD’s title is derived from a spirited 1837 essay by Schumann, in which he discusses Mendelssohn’s Preludes and Fugues, op. 35. Schumann rejects the notion that contrapuntal works, composed in the shadow of Bach’s glorious legacy, must by definition be academic and austere: “In any case, the best fugue is the one that the public takes for a Strauss waltz; in other words, a fugue where the structural underpinnings are no more visible than the roots that nourish the flower. Thus a reasonably knowledgeable music-lover once took a Bach fugue for a Chopin étude—to the credit of both!” (translation from the original German by Henry Pleasants) Given a fugue’s structural foundations, coupled with the chromatic nature of the central B-A-C-H motif (B-flat, A, C, B natural), it’s not surprising that the op. 56 Sechs Stücke come closer to Schumann’s Straussian ideal. Indeed, the latter pieces are notable for a striking exploration of light and shade, with even suggestions of humor thrown in for good measure. But Jens E. Christensen’s performances constitute a profound argument for viewing both works as music designed to engage and please the listener. In the recording, Christensen programs the op. 56 and 60 compositions as he has presented them in concert. The first two op. 60 fugues are succeeded by the first three op. 56 pieces. This sequential juxtaposition continues, culminating in the op. 60 fugues, nos. 5 & 6. Of course, the listener is free to program the music as he sees fit. But Christensen’s order provides a pleasing contrast of moods and textures that operates to the benefit of the overall repertoire. But of even greater importance is the artistry that Christensen brings to the Schumann pieces. This contrapuntal music is played with the utmost textural clarity, sensitivity of phrasing, and joyous celebration of Schumann’s gifts of thematic creation and development. These are performances that surmount all technical challenges, without ever lapsing into academic dryness or pedantry. The recorded sound is every bit as impressive as Christensen’s musicianship. The dynamic range, instrumental colors, and overall sense of experiencing this music in a grand space are all of demonstration quality. Thanks to Christensen’s majestic playing and the glorious recorded sound, the peroration of the Schumann fugue op. 60, no. 6 is absolutely stunning. Svend Ravnkilde’s engaging liner notes explore not only Schumann’s excursions into contrapuntal writing, but like endeavors by Danish composers of the time. A marvelous exploration of a pair of Schumann’s less celebrated creations. Recommended. Ken Meltzer 15.10.21