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Johann Kuhnau (1660-1722): Complete Organ Music / Stefano Molardi, organ

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Notes & Reviews:

Stefano Molardi's recorded integrale of Bach's organ music on Brilliant Classics won golden opinions from the specialist pres. As in the four volumes of that cycle, Molardi has taken care to choose instruments to match repertoire, playing two magnificent instruments by Gottfried Silbermann (Bach's favored organ-builder) to record the complete organ music - the first such album to do so - by Johann Kuhnau. Kuhnau thrived as a church musician in Germany a generation or so before J.S. Bach. He was appointed cantor of the Thomaskirche in 1701, on the death of Johann Schelle, the previous incumbent. When Kuhnau died in 1722, it was J.S. Bach who took over his position after a protracted selection process. Kuhnau played a pivotal role in the evolution of music in central Germany. This was partly due to the beauty and refinement of his melodies, the neatness of his harmony, his skilful use of dissonance and the Corelli-like elegance of his compositions. However the lasting quality of Kuhnau's music also derives from his ability to infuse his music with the fruits of his considerable learning in theology and rhetoric. This is particularly evident in the Sonate Bibliche, which narrate scenes from the Old Testament - David slaying Goliath and Gideon's victory evidently lend themselves to dramatic presentation, but there are more potentially intricate and abstract stories too: Jacob and Esau, Hezekiah's prayer among them. Published in 1700, the Sonate Bibliche were the culmination of Kuhnau's output as a composer, achieving considerable commercial success, and they deserve a wider public now. Then there are seven sonatas of more conventional dimensions and character. These were published separately from the Sonata in B flat, a work of considerably greater scope and invention. As Kuhnau himself noted on the manuscript, this is perhaps the first time that the genre description was applied to a solo keyboard work. Finally, there are the preludes and fugues in Kuhnau's two volumes (1689 and 1692) of Neuer Clavier Übung, which at points throw light on Bach's own appropriation of the genre. Very little of the music is currently available: a must for all enthusiasts of the Barock organ. This 3CD set presents the first complete recording of the organ works by Kuhnau! Johann Kuhnau (1660-1722) held several important posts in Germany, before settling in Leipzig, where he was for many years Cantor of the Thomaskirche, till his death in 1722, when Bach (a personal friend of his) took over. Kuhnau's music is highly innovative: refined and beautiful melodies, skilful use of dissonances and a Corelli-like elegance. He introduced Monteverdi's "affetti" in his organ works, creating the first instrumental "program music". His "Biblical Sonatas" are based on Old Testament scenes, depicted in expressive and telling phrases and instrumental effects. Stefano Molardi is one of the foremost Italian organists, specialized in Baroque music. His many recordings (among which a highly praised complete Bach cycle on Brilliant Classics) have won great acclaim in the international press. Played on a magnificent historic 1714 Silbermann Organ of the Freiberg Dom, the complete specifications of which are included in the extensive booklet.


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