Review of Maxine Thevenot plays Hellmuth Wolff op. 47 by Dr.
David Wagner - The Diapason
Here is another fine recording from the Canadian-born organist Maxine
Thévenot on the Raven label. This artist has established a distinguished
international career, performing throughout Europe, Great Britain, and North
America. Thévenot began her studies at the University of Saskatchewan,
earning a bachelor?s degree, before going on to receive master?s and
doctoral degrees from the Manhattan School of Music, where she was twice
awarded the Bronson Ragan Prize for ?most outstanding organist.? In 2006,
she was awarded an Honorary Fellowship by the National College of Music
& Arts in London for her service to music.
In 2010 Thévenot became director of cathedral music and organist at the
Cathedral of St. John, Albuquerque, New Mexico. She has held senior
positions in cathedrals in New York, Calgary, and Saskatoon. She also serves
on the faculty at the University of New Mexico, directing the only
collegiate women?s choral ensemble in the state, Las Cantantes, and also
serves there as the university chapel organist. Further information about
this artist can be found on her website: www.maxinethévenot.com.
This recording was inspired by a performance that Thévenot made on the
magnum opus from Hellmuth Wolff for the 2009 Seattle AGO regional convention
and is the first commercially available recording of the instrument. The
recording was made in July 2010.
Once again, the Raven label presents a recording with a complete and
detailed program booklet that is so often lacking with other recordings.
Like the recent Vision at Covenant recording of the Fisk Opus 124 in
Nashville (reviewed in the June issue), there is an essay by the builder
included in the notes. Hellmuth Wolff talks about the two years in building
this instrument, his inspiration for the organ,and offers a complete
specification. Essays from the builder add to the enjoyment of the entire CD
experience. It would be nice to see this as ?standard operating procedure?
as far as the first recordings of major instruments are concerned.
Organ designs are often stylistically directed by the incumbent organist at
the time of the project. Michael Gormley, the cathedral?s principal
organist, spent many years in Vienna and loved the South German Baroque
organ for its silvery plenum, beautiful flutes, and colorful reeds. To this
the builder added inspiration from Upper Swabia, a region between Stuttgart
and Munich, where French building practices also were embraced, including
the inclusion of a tierce rank in the mixtures of the Hauptwerk, Unterwerk,
and Pedal of this four-manual instrument. There are full choruses on each
manual and musical colors galore. Such blending of the French and the German
works well for this colorful and impressive instrument, built to be
earthquake resistant in its free-standing case!
The artist mentioned that the repertoire was chosen to show Southern and
Northern German organ compositional techniques and more recent Canadian
organ music that reflects, imitates, and emulates the represented here with
the Balletto del Granduca; its five variations are colorfully presented,
growing in texture and registrational intensity as they proceed to their
conclusion. Beautiful registrations and flawless playing make this a true
The Sweelinck piece is preceded by the music of Canadian composer Ruth
Watson Henderson, who studied at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto
and later at the Mannes College of Music in New York City. Her Chromatic
Partita for Organ from 1989 consists of a chorale followed by eight
variations; it was a prize winner at the International Competition for Women
Composers in Mannheim, Germany. This composition makes a nice companion work
to the preceding Sweelinck piece, alternating between dance-like and
meditative variations, and ending with a blockbuster finale inspired by the
chromatic harmony foreshadowed in the title of the work.
Also represented is a true masterwork of the North German tradition, the
Praeludium in E Minor by Nicolaus Bruhns, a virtuoso organist and violinist
who studied with Buxtehude. It was reported that Bruhns often took his
violin with him o the organ loft, playing it and accompanying himself with
double pedal playing as his own continuo. Only five organ works and the
fragment of a Praeludium in D Major have survived to our day; these works
show a bright musical imagination coupled with technically demanding music.
It was the second son of Johann Sebastian, C.P.E. Bach, who later stated
that his father was a great admirer of the music of Bruhns.
The Bruhns is followed by the premiere recording of a 21st-century work, the
Prémiere Suite by Andrew Ager, a native of Ottawa who studied at Dalhousie
University and the University of Toronto. He presently is
composer-in-residence at St. James Cathedral in Toronto. The work presented
here takes the Baroque suite as its inspiration, presenting a series of six
movements entitled Procession,Duo, Basse de trompette, Flûtes, Musette, and
concluding with the stunning Sortie Joyeuse.
Another real gem of this recording is the splendid presentation of the four
movement Pastorella, BWV 590, by Bach. Absolutely ravishing playing by
Thévenot makes this one of the highlights of the album. Enjoy the second
movement in the dialogue of 4-foot flutes.
Maxine Thévenot has again produced a disc that is imaginative and
beautifully engineered and recorded, with stunning playing that is both
sensitive and musical, where virtuosity is used only at the service of the
music, on an instrument that is perfectly matched to the repertoire
presented. All should be congratulated in this project; it will make a
welcome addition to one?s CD collection.
Review of Maxine Thevenot plays Hellmuth Wolff op. 47 by Jean-Yves
Duperron (Jan 2012)
In this day and age of computer chips, digital media, and the race to make
everything as small as possible as quickly as possible, it is reassuring and
comforting to know that there still exist craftsmen out there willing to
plan and build pipe organs like this one, and musicians devoted enough and
good enough to play them. Over the last few years, the flowering of the pipe
organ into a concert instrument has certainly helped save it from the claws
of obsolescence, although in most of the smaller community churches where
they were used solely as liturgical support, the organ's pipes now serve as
a refuge for bats more than anything else. It's depressing to think of how
many wonderful instruments have been forsaken out there around the world.
The Opus 47, the largest organ ever built by the distinguished firm of
Hellmuth Wolff & Associates of Laval, Quebec, Canada, was completed in
2005 at Christ Church Cathedral, Victoria, in British Columbia, Canada. For
the uninitiated, Op. 47 means this is the 47th instrument designed, planned
and constructed by this organ building firm. It's a wonderful instrument
(with mechanical action no less) built around 61 stops, that took two years
and 28,000 hours of work to create. From its 2' Flagiolet to its 32'
Kontraposaune, it is extremely well balanced and can easily display many
different characteristics well suited to the style of each piece. A prime
example of just that is the complete change of face from the massive final
chord of the Dietrich Buxtehude: Praeludium in C Major to the almost barrel
organ like sound of the Johann Kaspar Kerll: Capriccio sopra il cucu
complete with the song of a nightingale.
Organist Maxine Thévenot's playing always commands attention and her
judicial choice of registration from one piece to the next is peerless. I'm
not sure how she achieved it, but her dynamic pacing of the Dietrich
Buxtehude: Ciacona in E Minor is to be commended. The beauty of invention
and purety of voice she brings to the Bach, or the nobility she brings to
the Sweelinck are but only some examples of how this musician can expose the
soul within the works she performs.
The program itself is varied and goes a long way in displaying the many
facets of this organ. The music spans 400 years, from Jan Pieterszoon
Sweelinck born in 1562 to Andrew Ager born in 1962, whose Première Suite
makes its recording debut on this CD. It's a piece in 6 short movements that
combines the best of the old traditions with new ideas and really brings out
the subtle charms and the grand scale power of a pipe organ.
Once again Raven Recordings have done what they do best. Capture and
reproduce the sound of an organ so well as to place you, the listener, in
its environment. You can practically hear the air rushing through the low
note pedal pipes of the opening Buxtehude prelude, or imagine a shepherd
playing the flute in the Bach Pastorale. Impressive!