Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Urban F.Walser and Alexander Koschel (Switzerland) perform music for corno da caccia and organ at the Redeemer Church (Jerusalem)

“Music from the Baroque Period for Corno da Caccia and Organ” was the subject of a concert at the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Jerusalem’s Old City on May 9th 2015.  The guest artists were organist Dr. Alexander Koschel and trumpeter Urban F. Walser, both from Switzerland. For this unique program, Mr. Walser played the corno da caccia. A transposing instrument, the corno da caccia, a valved horn of higher pitch than the orchestral French horn, was played from the Baroque right up to the beginning of the Romantic period. It was frequently played by trumpeters, due to its high register and without hand-stopping. In the late 20th century, horn literature of the 18th century was being rediscovered and, with it, the notion that the brighter-sounding instrument with its narrower bore was more in keeping with the character of Baroque and later repertoire. The virtuoso German trumpeter Ludwig Güttler, an expert on 18th century trumpet music, was largely responsible for the revival of the corno da caccia. All the works performed by Walser at the Redeemer Church were written originally for the corno da caccia, an instrument frequently often used by J.S.Bach.
The program opened with G.Ph.Telemann’s (1681-1767) Concerto in D-major, played boldly in a reading sparkling with freshness, the organ’s bell-like registrations and the horn sound forming a vibrant mix of timbres. Hearing the corno da caccia for the first time, I was surprised at how forthright and powerful a sound the instrument has, together with a certain amount of dynamic flexibility. Never belying the technical challenges of the instrument, its demands regarding breath control and intonation traps, Walser’s playing was easeful, ornamented and entertaining.
J.S.Bach’s small Fantasia in C-major BWV 573 appears as incomplete in the 1722 Little Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach. Alexander Koschel’s playing of the version completed by Arnold Strebel was majestic and jubilant, his solid choice of volume highlighting the piece’s joyfulness. This was followed by an Aria with 6 Variations, an anonymous piece from an organ manuscript in the St. Katherinenthal Monastery in Switzerland. Choosing a more veiled timbre for the subject, Koschel then colored the variations with varied timbres and some ornamentation, his playing retaining the piece’s directness.
Organist and court musician at the Court of Schwerin, Peter Joachim Fick (d.1743) was both a copyist and prolific composer. His Horn Concerto in E-flat major, found in the State Library of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, highlights the influence of the Italian school on his writing. Following this work, an imaginative transition played by Koschel led into German organist and composer Georg Böhm’s (1661-1730) chorale melody “Vater unser im Himmelreich” (Our Father in the kingdom of heaven). Böhm, who held the post of organist at St. John’s Church Lüneburg for most of his professional life, was an important figure in the development of music in the Lutheran church. Boehm’s works influenced J.S.Bach, his writing using the “stylus phantasticus” approach that involved playing as based on improvisation. Koschel allowed piece’s the solemn, reverent beauty and humility to speak for itself, enlisting the rewarding palette of colors of the Redeemer Church’s Karl Schuke organ for the task.
In a very different vein, Alexander Koschel then performed J.S.Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D-minor BWV 565.  Whether an early work of the exuberant young Bach from his time in Arnstadt or the composition of some other composer, as has been suggested, (the manuscript no longer exists) Koschel gave expression to the work’s grandeur, drama and excitement, indeed, to its outright flamboyancy, and to the spontaneous freedom the toccata form offers, its style connected to the North German “stylus phantasticus” mentioned above. The sonorities he chose added to the imaginative character of the piece. Koschel’s seemingly effortless performance of the fugue was no less eventful, and his pacing strategic, as he presented its poly-layering in articulate fine “orchestration”.
The concert concluded with the Concerto in D-major by tenor and opera composer Carl Heinrich Graun (1703-1759), a leading exponent of the pre-Classical Berlin school and musical director to Frederick the Great. Sending the audience at the Redeemer Church back out into the spring sunshine with a fill of enjoyment and a unique musical experience, Graun's user-friendly Italianate galant style offered the artists another opportunity to present articulate, virtuosic and vibrant performance.
Urban J. Walser studied the trumpet with Roger Delmotte (Paris) and taught at the Basel Music Academy. His trumpet performances of J.S.Bach works have led to collaborations with many leading ensembles and conductors. He is a leader in the reintroduction of the corno da caccia. His recording of Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No.2 on the instrument has won high acclaim. This was Mr. Waiser’s first performance in Israel.
Alexander Koschel studied in Germany, Russia and Austria, completing his PhD at the Arts University in Graz (Austria). Involved with the preservation of the heritage of German organ builder Friedrich Ladegast, Koschel is the author of comprehensive academic papers and a publisher of organ music. As a performer and musicologist, his main interest lies in the organ music of Central Germany. Both artists have been performing together since 2002. In addition to playing repertoire designated to the corno da caccia and organ, they are interested in performing works of little-known composers of the Renaissance and Baroque.

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