Here’s a name to conjure with. In fact there have been a few recordings of the nine organ sonatas by Gustav Merkel (1827-1885), though most of them are presently deleted; this new recording offers an excellent opportunity to become familiar with one of the organ virtuosos of his time and place, which is to say 19th-century Germany; more specifically Dresden, where he became organist of the Kreuzkirche and professor of organ at the city’s conservatoire for the last quarter-century of his life.
His music is deeply rooted in the rich traditions of his native Saxony: hardly even Romantic in terms of harmony, looking more towards the Classical masters, or at most neoclassical Mendelssohn. On this recording Carlo Guandolino plays the Second (in G minor) and Sixth (E minor) Sonatas, interspersed with chorale preludes on Schmücke dich and Nun sich der Tag. Both sonatas have an imposingly Gothic introduction with Bachian harmonies and a flowing, main contrapuntal movement. Both sonatas then feature a long, meditative Adagio; the Second concludes with a superbly organised, dramatically structured double fugue (ie with two themes alternating and then combining in thrilling counterpoint), and the Sixth finishes with a grand apotheosis on the chorale themes which have dominated its melodic construction throughout.
According to MusicWeb International, ‘Carlo Guandalino delivers a very fine performance’ of the organ music of Zipoli on a previous Brilliant Classics release (BC95212), which is complemented by his previous foray into the German Romantic repertoire, an album of organ music by Joseph Rheinberger (BC95466) including the well-known Fourth Organ Sonata in A minor. For this recording of Merkel he plays the organ of Thiene Cathedral in the city of Vicenza, fully restored by the Italian firm of Zanin which is among the country’s leading organ-builders. The booklet includes full organ specifications and an essay on Merkel by Carlo Guandalino.
Gustav Adolf Merkel (1827-1885) was a German Romantic composer, mainly for his own instrument, the organ. He completed his studies in Dresden, where he staid till his death as organist and teacher. He also had lessons with Robert Schumann in Leipzig.
Merkel’s style is strongly influenced by Baroque counterpoint, notably by Johann Sebastian Bach, which he incorporated in the romantic idiom of his time, with its warm harmonies and long melodic lines.
On this new recording we hear two of his Organ Sonatas, large-scale 4-movement works, of which the number 6, “Choral-Sonata” is the most famous.
Italian organist Carlo Guandalino plays the magnificent organ of the Cathedral of Thiene (Vicenza, Italy), restored by the famous organ builder Zanin, the specifications of which are included in the booklet.
Guandalino’s affinity with the German Romantic repertoire was already apparent in his recording of organ music by Rheinberger (BC95466).