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Help us fund our new film on the organs' of Aristide Cavaille-Coll.

Pronkjewelen in Stad en Ommeland - The historic organs of the province of Groningen

two reviews from Choir and Organ

Review of full boxed set, March / April 2010 edition

The Pronkjuwelen project is a substantial one comprising a beautifully presented and illustrated book of over 100 pages, a DVD of nearly two hours in length, and five CD recordings of literature and improvisations, played by Dutch organist Sietze de Vries. The book is in three languages (Dutch, German and English) and traces the development of churches and organs in the Groningen region over a period of several hundred years from the Renaissance to the present day. Many instruments have been restored and the combination of text, DVD and CD recordings form a wonderfully informative trio of material.

The DVD features extended interview material with organ builders and organologists Cor Edskes, Bernard Edskes and Jürgen Ahrend. The programme focuses on the development of organ building from the 14th to the 20th centuries, with an in-depth survey of the organ in the Martinikerk in Groningen, up to the most recent restoration by Ahrend, completed in 1984. The quality of the programme is first class, with some fascinating cameos (for example on pipe-making in the Ahrend workshop) and many musical examples to illustrate the text. The interviews are in the original languages with subtitles – this is very welcome, hearing the experts speaking passionately in their own languages. The programme comprises a number of chapters, with special mention given to organ builders such as Arp Schnitger and Hintz. The balance between overview and detail is just right, and I enjoyed the CDs all the more for having seen the DVD first.

Nineteen instruments are used in total on the CDs, and the whole of disc one is dedicated to the organ in the Martinikerk. Wim van Beck plays the Pièce d’orgue of J.S. Bach to open the first disc. De Vries presents music by 18 different composers as well as a truly spectacular range of improvisations, which demonstrate the organs to very good effect. He explores these instruments through creative use of registration and the CD booklet contains not only full specifications, but also registrations for each piece. The notes on the organs are given in Dutch only. The term ‘aangehangen pedaal’ meaning ‘pull-down pedal’ recurs, as do references to pitch and temperament (‘toonhoogte.’) De Vries matches the music to the instruments in a most compelling way and the recorded sound is clear and well balanced.

This project must surely raise awareness of the historic instruments in this most beautiful of regions of the Netherlands, and I cannot commend it highly enough.

Graham Scott, Choir and Organ


Review of stand-alone DVD Martinikerk Rondeau, January / February 2012 edition

Haunting and unmistakeable are the flute sounds of the historic organ in the Martinikerk, Groningen. Martinikerk Rondeau is the stand-alone DVD spun off from Pronkjuwelen in Stad en Ommeland – a 5-CD, hardback book and DVD package examining the organ landscape of Groningen and neighbouring villages in the Netherlands. The Martinikerk organ is of incalculable importance because it spans 500 years of history including gothic, renaissance, baroque, rococo and romantic elements. Arp Schnitger is the central figure in the history and Martinikerk Rondeau contextualises the instrument with visits to organs in the region which retain the ‘pure’ styles of the various historic periods; the narrative explains and celebrates the historic craft of organ building (there is a detailed pipe-making demo) and confronts head-on the central debate on restoration, most notably when discussing, with commendable pragmatism, the various 19th and 20th century impacts on the old organs.

Director Will Fraser never lets time constraints dictate the unhurried pace of his visual story-telling, but is sometimes over anxious to illustrate every point with bouts of fast cutting from his static camera and extensive library of illustrative stills. But who would quibble over the comprehensive shot-lists of these exquisite organs – at one point Fraser overcomes the lack of a jib-mounted camera by hopping on a ferris wheel adjacent to the Martinikerk to claim some elevated exterior shots of the church.

Woven through the narrative are musical illustrations performed mostly by Sietze de Vries. And in the sprightly octogenarian organ consultant Cornelius Edskes he has a compelling protagonist, clambering all over the organs and distilling his encyclopaedic knowledge and experience into long fluent pieces-to-camera which look as though they only ever require one take. Other organ-builder witnesses include Cor’s brother Bernhardt, and Jürgen Ahrend, who worked on the last major Martinikerk restoration. In a DVD extra, eminent Dutch consultant Jan Jongepier talks about the 1795 F.C. Schnitger Jr / Freytag organ at Zuidbroek – a 95 percent original instrument credited as the ‘farewell’ to the 18th century organ.

But in the end everything comes back to the human star of the show, Cor Edskes; we leave him sitting candle-lit in his Groningen retirement apartment, making the case for ‘subjective objectivity’ in organ restoration and providing a lucid, unsentimental assessment of the future of historic organs as they risk becoming increasingly marginalised by the onward march of the secular society. This DVD offers an utterly enthralling way to learn about the Dutch and north German organ tradition, and why its preservation isn’t just an obligation, but a necessity.

Graeme Kay




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