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Fernando Germani (Organ)

Fernando Germani Performs Bach, Sweelinck and Bull

1

Fernando Germani plays Bach

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750):
Prelude & Fugue in G major, BWV 541
Prelude & Fugue in E minor, BWV 548
Prelude & Fugue in B minor, BWV 544
Prelude & Fugue in A minor, BWV 543
Prelude & Fugue in C major, BWV 547
Chorale Settings, BWV 727 & BWV 731
Fugue on the Magnificat, BWV 733

Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck (1562-1621):
Variations on "Mein junges Leben hat ein End"

John Bull (1562-1628):
Prelude and Carol "Laet ons met herte reijne"
Fantasia on a Fugue of Sweelinck

Fernando Germani (Organ)

Testament

1957-1958

CD / TT 79:16

Donald Satz wrote (September 5, 2001):
Although Fernando Germani is not a household name, Testament has recently issued a disc devoted to his playing of Bach, Sweelinck, and John Bull. Actually, the bulk of the music is from Bach and could be listed as a Bach disc with three fillers.

Mr. Germani, born in 1906, was a precocious child and played the piano and violin in public at four years of age. And get this one - at age eight he started taking lessons in composition from Resphigi who headed Germani toward the organ. Then at age fifteen, Germani was the organist of the Augusteo Symphony Orchestra in Rome. Spanning a career of almost seventy-five years, Germani also was a celebrated teacher in Italy. He died in 1998, and his legacy will hopefully be more pronounced in future years.

Germani's Bach performances have a great deal in their favor. He's a strong and no-nonsense kind of guy; he gets straight to the point and does so with a high level of demonstrativeness and aristocracy. Further, Germani never has any problem delving deeply into Bach's soul; it seems quite natural for him.

My reservations mainly concern the recorded sound. It's a little muffled and quite compressed; the organ is never allowed to really soar, and that's a significant negative in Bach's organ music. Second, the bass underpinning is not well-defined; that's also significant. The third problem is that the music's contours are consistently rounded; it's hard to sound bold and sharp. This rounded quality is, to my ears, created by both Germani and his soundstage. It results in reduced vibrancy.

The Chorale Settings are a much better fit for Germani and his soundstage than the Preludes & Fugues which need more boldness than the recording can deliver. BWV 727 & BWV 731 are as good as it gets; the rounded quality I mentioned does no harm here at all, and we are left with glorious Germani readings. BWV 547 is the one Prelude & Fugue that Germani performs superbly. These three works are the highlights of his Bach interpretations. The work from Sweelinck does not court much favor with me, but Bull's two compositions are fine additions to the disc.

I end up wishing very much that I could listen to Germani in excellent sound. As it is, he gives the listener many of the great attributes of Bach's music. Unfortunately, sound deficiencies don't allow some others to come through fully.

My journey through the recording goes like this:

Prelude & Fugue in G major, BWV 541 - Lionel Rogg's liner notes describe this work as an "explosion of vitality and joy". That's exactly the ticket and Rogg fully conveys those elements in an outstanding reading with great bounce and energy. Weinberger on CPO is a close second. Germani hits the core of the music as well, although his reading isn't as sharply etched as Rogg's. The only problem is that the lower registers are not well-defined and sort of make me think of sludge. It's a sound problem which still allows Germani's artistry to shine through but also dampens the enjoyment a little.

Prelude & Fugue in E minor, BWV 548 - I am partial to the Christopher Herrick reading on Hyperion. He's very powerful and surprisingly bold in the Prelude with an infectious rhythm; his Fugue has an incisive and eerie beginning, and he fully captures the majesty of the music. At all times, the bass underpinning is strong and excellently defined. And that underpinning is the problem with Germani's version; the sound is again rather homogenized. Also, Herrick's performance, as with Rogg in BWV 541, is sharply etched while Germani's contours are smooth. But there's never any doubt that Germani has Bach in his soul. He reaches all the right emotional buttons and with strength and aristocracy.

Prelude & Fugue in B minor, BWV 544 - One of Bach's most vital and powerful organ masterpieces, the work leaves the listener totally exhausted or exhilarated. Rogg leaves me exhilarated with the great vitality he brings to the work. Martin Lucker on Hanssler gives a tremendously strong and muscular reading that exhausts me. Germani's performance also deals from strength although he can not match Lucker. Overall, it's a fine performance which does tend to lag at times in the Prelude; Germani occasionally goes soft with lessened impact.

Prelude & Fugue in A minor, BWV 543 - I feel that the Prelude is best presented in a strong and vibrant manner; Rogg provides both while Germani is a little lacking in vibrancy. Again, his contours are smoother than Rogg's, and it hurts the performance. Germani's Fugue goes better than the Prelude as it's highly legato music.

Prelude & Fugue in C major, BWV 547 - 'Bold and sharp' is just the ticket for the Prelude, and Leonhardt on Sony/Seon does it perfectly. The Fugue lives on swirling and legato-driven phrasing; Herrick's performance is quite an uplifting experience.

You can't get 'bold and sharp' from Germani's Prelude, but it does offer great majesty and dignity. The legato-driven nature of the Fugue is an excellent fit for Germani; his strong posture adds to a powerful and memorable achievement. Germani's performance of BWV 547 is my favorite of the five Preludes & Fugues on the recording.

Chorale Settings, BWV 727 & 731 - Germani's BWV 727 is a gorgeous and poignant reading which is the best I've ever heard. The intensity of emotions is very powerful without ever going overboard. Also, Germani's nobility completely shines through.

BWV 731 is serene music which some performers treat as music to sleep by such as Piet Kee on Chandos. Gerhard Weinberger on CPO enlivens the music with a little rhythmic bounce and edge while still maintaining the piece's beauty and strong foundation. Germani's chorale melody is well projected, interesting, and lovingly rendered; I can't think of a better version.

Fugue on the Magnificat, BWV 733 - "My soul doth magnify the Lord", and the music should magnify in stunning and majestic fashion. Threre's not a better version for conveying the lift and majesty of this music than Andrea Marcon's on Hanssler; it's a performance that cries out to be recognized. It's also a slow reading at over six minutes, and Germani shortens it down to hardly over four minutes. Much of the majesty disappears, although the performance is still strong and flows well. This is not one of the better Germani readings on the disc; it's simply way too fast.

Sweelinck's Variations - A comfortable and dignified theme followed by five variations. It may be the way Germani plays it, but I don't find this among Sweelinck's better organ works; neither the basic theme nor any of the variations stick in the memory bank.

John Bull - I like Bull's Prelude and Carol; it has an attractive ceremonial feature which is excellently conveyed by Germani. The Fantasia is a strong and uplifting composition which Germani does proud with an interesting rhythmic pulse.

Don's Conclusions: Fernando Germani is a superb Bach organist let down some by the recorded sound which can't provide much in the way of boldness or sharpness. This deficiency can't helf but impact the Preludes & Fugues on the disc; however, Germani overcomes it all with an outstanding BWV 547. His Chorale Settings are another great achievement. Unfortunately, BWV 733 is of little value because of excessive speed.

With a few performances of transcendent quality, I must recommend this disc. I must also point out that the unfavorable sound for the Preludes & Fugues constitutes a mnegative since most of the music resides in these five works. My recommendation is to acquire the disc with the reservations noted. Germani is a keeper, good sound or not.


Feedback to the above Review

Bradley Lehman wrote (September 5, 2001):
[To Donald Satz] Sounds intriguing! What's the fugue subject of Sweelinck that Bull uses? Those borrowings and tributes always interest me.

Donald Satz wrote (September 5, 2001):
[To Bradley Lehman] Not being very familiar with Sweelinck, I don't know which fugue is used by Bull. Also, the liner notes are mum concerning any of the works on the disc.

Bradley Lehman wrote (September 6, 2001):
[To Donald Satz] Thanks for checking, though, Don. Your review sparked me to take another look at the Sweelinck collected works just now to look for any clues, and behold, the whole piece by Bull is there! I played through it and it looks like a keeper...I'd been looking for something about this length and style for an upcoming concert. So, thanks.

It's #71 in the 1943 Max Seiffert edition of Sweelinck's keyboard music that's now readily available from Dover. It says the fugue by Sweelinck is lost, but Bull wrote this in memoriam shortly after Sweelinck's death, and this piece is dated December 15, 1621. Guess I'll have to check it out in the collected Bull works, too. I doubt this one is in the Leonhardt/Noske edition of Sweelinck's works that in most respects replaces Seiffert's work.

I'd been sort of hoping it would be on the contrapuntal subject of Sweelinck's wild 14-minute fantasy that starts: A A A G Bb A C B Bb A... (catch the "B-A-C-H" in there?)...that's the one that Leonhardt plays on his DHM disc of Sweelinck. This piece by Bull is on a similarly chromatic but simpler theme: A B C C# D B A...

Incidentally, that "Mein junges Leben" set of variations is one of Sweelinck's "greatest hits" if any of his works are hits...that and "More palatino" are the two that everybody plays. Variations on secular pop songs. Nice stuff, direct and tuneful. I've always liked those, especially "Mein junges Leben," since hearing the E Power Biggs records as a kid...those tunes and variations really resonate with me. And they're played as often on harpsichord as on organ, live if not on recordings. They are core repertoire for harpsichord. I'd encourage you to listen to them a couple more times and maybe seek some other recordings; they're especially haunting pieces even though they evidently haven't haunted you on first exposure. They will.... A good recording is by Uittenbosch: check out my review from last year at
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B0000044Q7

Thomas Braatz wrote (September 6, 2001):
< Brad stated: It's #71 in the 1943 Max Seiffert edition of Sweelinck's keyboard music
that's now readily available from Dover. It says the fugue by Sweelinck is lost, but Bull wrote this in memoriam shortly after Sweelinck's death, and this piece is dated December 15, 1621. Guess I'll have to check it out in the collected Bull works, too. I doubt this one is in the Leonhardt/Noske edition of Sweelinck's works that in most respects replaces Seiffert's work. >
In the Musica Britannica Vol XIV (1960) John Bull: Keyboard Music, it is Nr. 4, p. 12, but, alas, no further information than the date is given.

< I've always liked those, especially "Mein junges Leben," since hearing the E Power Biggs records as a kid...those tunes and variations really resonate with me. >
Ditto, I was about 14 when I first played this on a harpsichord. It definitely was a 'hit' for me. I played it over and over again.


Fenando Germani: Fernando Germani Performs Bach, Sweelinck and Bull [Satz] | Germani Play Bach [Halliday]

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Last update: July 18, 2004 20:06:25