Nidaros Cathedral’s Steinmeyer organ, completed in 1930 for the 900th anniversary of the Battle of Stiklestad, is one of the largest cathedral organs in Europe. The instrument has, however, suffered an unkind fate over the course of time as a result of moves within the cathedral, a reduction of the number of stops, and exposure to dampness and draft. Maintenance of the organ eventually became so demanding that those in charge of its repair could only pray and hope for the best. Many years of tireless effort to have the organ restored, led by former Director of Music Per Fridtjov Bonsaksen, finally produced results, and in the spring of 2012 the municipality of Trondheim agreed to act as guarantor for the cost of the restoration project. In late summer of the same year, Kuhn Organ Builders began the laborious task of dismantling the organ and sending a significant portion of the instrument to its factory in Switzerland for restoration. The following year, in September 2013, work began on installing the organ in its new façade, and in May 2014 it was ready for use. After having stood “with clipped wings” for over fifty years, the organ again has its full range of timbre. The Steinmeyer organ in Nidaros Cathedral is once more one of Europe’s largest and most magnificent cathedral organs, and it has, in addition, been updated digitally, making playing easier — and listening more pleasurable.
Total time: 01:18:50
Merging Horus AD/Micpre in 353.8 Khz (DXD)
Schopes MK2H OMNI and MK21
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Nidaros Cathedral. Trondheim
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|Release Date||February 13, 2015|
With a specification that runs to 146 stops and an amazing 36 couplers, the 1930 Steinmeyer organ in Trondheim is one of the largest cathedral organs in Europe. It was substantially rebuilt a year ago, a few months after the appointment of Magne Draagen as Director of Music. He demonstrates the instrument in a program highlighting various unique features, to which he draws attention in his own booklet-notes.
The recording does him proud, capturing the almost inaudible Echo division in Ludwig Nielsen’s otherwise unremarkable Organ Fantasy based on the Nidaros Cathedral chimes, vividly detailing the broad dynamic sweep of Reger’s ‘Benedictus’ and capturing the climax of Dupré’s ‘Placare Christe servulis’ with ground-shaking intensity. Draagen can be excused for bringing certain stops and features out to play more for reasons of aural display than musical integrity; Widor’s ‘Marche nuptiale’ gets a burst of the harp-like Celesta for no good reason; pedal chimes and a host of mutations go even beyond Karg-Elert’s registration directions in the astonishing Homage to Handel; a strangely distant Tuba makes its presence felt in the Handel Hornpipe; and, perversely, the English Solo division with Willis pipework is highlighted in Gigout’s Grand choeur dialogué.
With so much aural colour to play with, Draagen’s own improvisation shows remarkable restraint in its Grieg-like 3’40”, while in Eben’s ‘Moto ostinato’, the lovely Adagio by Arild Sandvold and, particularly, a discreet account of ‘Master Tallis’s Testament’ we hear this fine organ and intelligent player at their very best.
One of the manifold pleasures of reviewing organ recordings is getting to know a new instrument. In this case, it’s the splendid Steinmeyer in Trondheim’s Nidaros Cathedral. Installed in 1930, the organ was moved from the north transept to the west nave and substantially altered in 1962; then, after half a century of decline, it was fully restored by Kuhn of Switzerland between 2012 and 2014. Boasting 146 stops and 36 couplers, it’s one of the largest of its kind in Europe.
At the console is the cathedral’s Director of Music, Magne H. Draagen, who offers an attractive program that highlights the organ’s warm, eminently civilized demeanor. Among the usual suspects – Dupré, Gigout, Karg-Elert, and Widor – is a smattering of home-grown talent. As for the Oslo-based Lawo Classics, they’ve not been around that long; alas, I was underwhelmed by the first installment in their Scriabin series with Vasily Petrenko, but, to be fair, that has more to do with the conductor than anything else. However, a quick dip into this Nidaros album promised a much happier experience all around.
The jeweled Grieg transcription, with its distinctive melody, is a quiet delight, and Draagen plays it with all the sensitivity and color it needs. More extrovert is the Dupré, part of a 16-movement piece he penned after visiting the tomb of French composer-organist Jean Titelouze (1562/63-1633). What magnificent pedals, and how well caught, the sound firm and fearless right across the range. But it’s the ineluctable presence of this recording, its startling inner voices, that’s so striking. Add to that astonishing delicacy in the antic Howells and you really do have a recital that engages and illuminates at every turn.
This well-filled album is mighty impressive, and that goes for the sound as well; in short, a triumph.
Some of the items in the recital also demonstrate the spatial placing of some registers within the Cathedral, giving a challenge for the Lawo engineers. Draagen’s selection of pieces is designed not just for organ buffs but for music lovers in general.
While the stereo sound excellently captures the organ in its cathedral acoustic (with a 5 sec decay), to get the most realistic sound you need to use the 5.0 multichannel track. Here, the engineers have been able to combine the detached solo and echo registers with those in the main organ in a 3-D sonic sound stage perspective which looses very little detail in the vast surrounding ambience, giving the listener the experience of being in the Cathedral. Engineer Thomas Wolden and producer/editor Vegard Landaas have used the ability of DXD to record the organ’s very wide dynamic range. The remarkably soft, detailed output from the “gentle” pipes of the main organ (or that from the distant echo registers) is beautifully conveyed, although I would advise using a higher than usual playback volume unless you have a listening room which has virtually no ambient noise.
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