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John Miller, June 2012

Flemming Dreisig[’s]…new performance can be regarded as authoritative. Given the huge resources of the five-manual 1995 Marcussen organ of Copenhagen Cathedral and DaCapo’s technically excellent multichannel recording on SA-CD, this 2-disc set is another valuable item in the current reinstatement of Langgaard’s music.

On paper, the combination of biblical quotes, the purely conceptual nature of some texts and the rapidly changing character and atmosphere of each movement do not bode well for structural clarity in a potentially sprawling format, yet the work hangs surprisingly well together, partly due to the frequent use of motives like the Grail Bell, and also to the devoted and inspired playing by Dreisig. His imaginative use of the organ’s many colours and effects, like vox humana with tremolo, chimes and the Gemshorn…make for a vivid and unpredictable listening experience which is pure Langgaard. Dreisig’s cajoling, beautiful paced Romantic expositions can unexpectedly be ripped apart or blown away by truly volcanic, cruelly dissonant, full organ chordal blasts which make the listener run behind the settee for cover. Above all, Dreisig portrays Langgaard’s deep sincerity, the primal glue which holds this monster of an organ piece together, making it glow inwardly.

Bendt Viinholt Nielsen’s essay on the music and its context is excellent, and in English and Danish. Good photographs and a full organ specification are included. © 2012 Read complete review

Bob McQuiston
Classical Lost and Found, September 2009


Most modern day classical music collectors know Danish composer Rued Langgaard (1893–1952) for his thoroughly engaging, idiosyncratic late-romantic symphonies (See his Biography & Discography). But he began his musical career as a church organist, and wrote a considerable amount of noteworthy music for that instrument. This was particularly true during the 1930s when his orchestral music was considered old-fashioned and rarely performed. One of the two works offered on this new hybrid, CD(2)/SACD(2/5.1) Dacapo release is Messis, which dates from those years, and at a little over one hundred minutes ranks as one of the most extensive works in all organ literature. The other, In ténebras exteriores, lasts about twenty and could be considered an afterthought or appendix to the former.

Messis is the Latin word for harvest time, and Langgaard uses it as the title for his magnum organ opus in the sense of music for the end of the world, or Last Judgment, if you will. As with his symphonies, he loved to give his creations arcane subtitles, and they abound here! He called the overall work Messis (Harvest Time), a Drama for Organ in Three Evenings, and wrote it between 1932 and 1939, revising the last Evening in 1951–52 just before he died. Each evening is titled and divided into four or five parts with—Yes, you guessed it!— more titles in addition to associated Biblical quotations and references (see the informative album notes for specifics).

Evening one also bears the title “Messis” and is in four parts. The first three were inspired by quotations from the Gospel of Matthew dealing with the Second Coming of Christ and the Kingdom of Heaven. They are musically linked to Good Friday with recurring references to the “Bell” motif (BM) introduced in the first act of Wagner’s (1813–1883) Parsifal (1882). Although part one begins with that old familiar chorale tune “Wachet auf”, it’s not long before the composer ingeniously intertwines it with BM [SACD-1, track-5, beginning at 00:23]. The second part immediately makes a brief reference to Swedish composer Emil Sjögren’s (1853–1918) third prelude and fugue for organ (C major, Op. Posth., c. 1910), which starts with a paraphrase of BM. Part three is the most dramatic so far, and closes with chordal allusions to BM.

The best is yet to come in the fourth and final part, which is a tone passion for organ describing the Crucifixion. It begins somewhat optimistically, but gradually turns darker with the music becoming more anguished as a variety of striking stops are added to the mix. Some seismic 16s and 32s remind us of the earthquake following Jesus’ death, and then it concludes as the choir with organ accompaniment sings a brief chorale about the glories of heaven. So endeth the first Evening according to Matthew!

The composer tells us the next two Evenings echo Jesus’ thoughts. The second is titled “Juan” (Spanish for “John”) after the Gospel of John. It’s in five parts consisting of a prelude, three inner thought pieces inspired by the sayings of Christ found in John and a postlude. The outer sections are both marked “Man’s days are as grass,” bringing to mind the second part of the Brahms (1833–1897) German Requiem (1857–68).

The prelude is meditative and prepares the listener for the central trilogy of selections. These take the form of a foreboding sonata representing the Last Judgment, a windswept rondo associated with the life’s uncertainties, and a consoling nocturne combined with a powerful fugue related to the hope of salvation. The final postlude is some of the most inspiring organ music you could ever hope to hear with a repeated rhythmic motif [SACD-2, track-5, beginning at 00:20] that’s quite hypnotic. So endeth the second Evening according to John.

The third Evening labeled “Buried in Hell” is based on Christ’s parable about Dives and Lazarus as related in the Gospel of Luke. It’s a programmatic four-part tone poem with an improvisational spontaneity that many may find make it the creative zenith of this work. The three sections following the rather subdued introduction are spectacularly registrated. They contain some decibel levels of sonic boom magnitude that Pierre Cochereau would have loved! And so endeth the third Evening according to Luke.

But that’s not all folks! Langgaard now caps everything off with a fabulous final postlude where there are again references to BM [SACD-2, track-10, beginning at 02:51]. The last notes on the pedals are G-A-D-E, which was Rued’s way of paying tribute to his predecessor, the great Danish romantic composer Niels Gade (1817–90).

The four-part work filling out this album, In ténebras exteriores (Into outer darkness), dates from 1947. It bears the same subtitle and section labels as the third Evening, and might be regarded as a rethinking of it. The first section of the later piece is almost triple the length of its earlier counterpart, and includes most of its predecessor in an unaltered state. It concludes with an infernal coda whose final notes are B-A-D-Eb, which in German notation (H-A-D-Es) spell out “Hades” (see the newsletter of 20 September 2006). The two middle selections are rousing preludes that were written earlier for church use. The fourth and final part has a ceremonious grandeur that ends things in a much more upbeat manner than was the case with the earlier version.

Our soloist is Flemming Dreisig, who’s organist at Copenhagen Cathedral where this recording was made. He’s not only one of Denmark’s finest and an authority on Langgaard’s music, but thoroughly familiar with the French organ tradition, having studied in Paris with Jean Langlais (1907–1991) and Gaston Litaize (1909–1991). Put someone like that at the console of an instrument made by one of Europe’s best organ builders and you’re guaranteed sensational performances like these.

The Marcussen instrument featured here was installed in 1995, and all of its ranks have that articulate individual character and clarity that typify the organs of Arp Schnitger (1648–1719) and Aristide Cavaillé-Coll (1811–1899). It’s perfectly suited to Langgaard’s quirky creations, particularly in the hands (and feet) of an organist who’s not only a consummate performer, but really knows his instrument, and can registrate anything he plays to best advantage.

The Copenhagen Cathedral Choir should also be acknowledged for their fine singing of the chorale that concludes the first Evening.

As they did with Rued’s symphonies referenced above, the Danish recording engineers have once again outdone themselves with this exceptional demonstration quality album. Not only that, but being a hybrid release there are SACD stereo and multichannel tracks for those desiring that little extra touch of realism.

The microphone placement is perfect, creating in the stereo CD and SACD modes a totally convincing cathedral space in front of the listener. Playing the multichannel track you’ll find yourself in the center of the nave, experiencing some of the most gorgeous organ sound imaginable. And at one point, as would be the case in many cathedrals, it’s notably from the back [SACD-2, track-10, beginning at 01:26]. This production is also exceptional because unlike most organ discs there are no ballooning bass peaks. Pipe freaks and audiophiles are definitely going to want this one!

Peter Joelson
Audiophile Audition, June 2009

Rued Langgaard (1893–1952) was something of a musical teenage delinquent in Denmark’s musical scene; for some years his music languished nearly forgotten until it was reassessed in the 1960s. No one has done more to rehabilitate Langgaard than Bengt Viinholt Nielsen, author of the fine essay accompanying this release.

Messis, which means “The Time of Harvest” is a substantial work lasting nigh on two hours in total and written almost entirely for organ solo. The child Langgaard had made something of a name for himself in 1905 as an 11-year-old improviser on the organ. His First Symphony, most recently recorded by DaCapo and released on SACD 6.220525, and also included in the boxed set of all the symphonies on 6.200001 was first performed when the composer was but 18, and is a sizeable work for large orchestra and lasts about an hour. Unfortunately, this work was not greeted warmly, and while his music was occasionally performed in Germany until the late 1920s, performances at home rather petered out. Derogatory remarks about Carl Nielsen made by Langgaard and his mother helped move him to the very fringes of musical life in Denmark. After the mid-1920s, Langgaard’s music had become backward-looking, harking towards the age of Gade and Schumann, and during the 1930s, he had almost ceased writing, that is, apart from Messis. It took until 1940 for Langgaard to obtain his first and only full-time post, that of organist at Rabe, and it was here that Messis was completed and revised—Langgaard was an inveterate tinkerer with his works.

Langgaard himself performed parts of Messis at Rabe Cathedral in the very early 1950s. Written in three sections and a postlude, the work is meant to be performed over a series of evenings, and the music has much variety. There are passages which are open and confident, others which are discordant and acid. Use is made of chorales, small quotations from other composers and folk tunes. Above all, there is the feeing of a free spirit extemporising, and I found much pleasure in sitting back, enjoying the sound and just let it waft over me.The first disc opens with In Tenebras Exteriores, written after the three Messis evenings, and was inspired by the Parable of the Wedding Feast, in which the groom’s father is noticed by the King as inappropriately dressed, and so is cast, bound hand and foot, into the outer darkness. Langgaard may well have considered this a self-portrait, the misfit of Danish music. The piece ends B, A, D, Eb, spelling out HADES. The three evenings’ music was inspired by biblical quotations, these all included in the handsome booklet.The performance made on the organ of Copenhagen Cathedral sounds superb; Flemming Dreisig conjures a very wide palette of sound from the fine five manual Marcussen organ whose specification is included. Certainly it contains a frighteningly accurate “goat stop”!

Technically, this is, I feel, a superb recording of an organ, the sound particularly in multichannel mode reproducing the ample acoustic with complete success. Indeed, this is one of the finest organ recordings I have heard; and with such rare and rewarding, largely romantic sounds, it is to be highly recommended.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, May 2009

History will name Rued Langgaard as the last of the late-Romantic composers, his organ drama both picturing the end of the world and the close of that era of composition. Though he spent most of his career as an outcast from the Danish music establishment, he continued to produce a large amount of music. Lasting not far short of two hours, his organ work, Messis (The Time of Harvest), was his most immense score. Drawing inspiration from quotations in the Holy Bible, each of its three enormous sections is divided into movements, the first ending with The Crucifixion. At that point he introduces a chorus singing of heavenly peace to words by Hans Brorson. There are quiet moments, between massive blasts in atonal mode, as if to mark the chaos.To give some idea as so content, try to imagine Widor and Messiaen combining to produce the ultimate organ work. It is full of massive gestures, but it does not contain those instantly memorable thematic moments, and to some extent it is fragmented, and finishes rather quietly without an ending. This all took place in the 1930’s, but in 1947 Langgaard added a work, In tenebras exteriores with the subtitle Buried in Hell, the score is in three movements each given the same names as those used in the final section of Messis. It includes music from that earlier piece, and makes a potent picture of the subtitle. The two discs are played by Flemming Dreisig, organist of Copenhagen Cathedral, the major organ post in Denmark. Messis must be a mentally exhausting score, with dexterity needed in both hands and feet, together with the extensive use of stops to create the fast moving changes of colour. He plays the massive 1995 Marcussen instrument in the Cathedral, its sheer power awesome in dynamic range, and will test your equipment in the best possible way. The Dacapo engineers have crafted an impressive sound that balances the church acoustic with internal clarity.

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