Two four-star helpings of Mendelssohn

There's little to choose between the two spirited performances of Mendelssohn six vital Organ Sonatas are

Composer:  Mendelssohn
Repertoire:  Complete Organ Sonatas
Artists:  Jos van der Kooy (organ)
Rating:   4/5
Genre:  Instrumental
Label:  Challenge CC72315

Composer:  Mendelssohn
Repertoire:  Complete Organ Sonatas
Artists:  William Whitehead (organ)
Rating:   4/5
Genre:  Instrumental
Label:  Chandos CHAN 10532

Mendelssohn’s six Organ Sonatas are the most (some would say the only) important works written for the instrument between those of Bach and Liszt. By turns exuberant and contemplative, they were written in 1844 and 1845. Fitting neatly on to one CD, Sonatas Nos 1, 2 and 4 have four movements; Sonatas Nos 5 and 6 have three; and Sonata No.3 has just two, the first of them among the most magnificent of the entire organ repertoire.

The Amsterdam-born and based organist Jos van der Kooy plays the 1738 Müller organ at St Bavo’s in Haarlem, an instrument with an incisive attack and a bright chorus that does full justice to the allegro movements and offers plenty of characterful stops to supply contrast in the slower sections with their frequent quotations from Lutheran chorales. In this big acoustic, though, what you miss is the detail of fast passagework (the first movement of Sonata No.4, for instance) when textures threaten to blur into a wash of sound.

The Chandos recording scores here, though there is little to choose between the spirited performances of the two players. British musician William Whitehead (educated at Oxford University and the Royal Academy of Music) offers the rare opportunity to hear the 1818 organ in the ballroom of Buckingham Palace – exactly the kind of instrument that Mendelssohn would have been familiar with on his visits to England. And although it lacks the bite and tonal variety of St Bavo’s, it allows us to hear each element of the music with greater clarity. Try the majestic third movement of Sonata No.2, the best-known section of these six masterpieces. 

Mendelssohn

Felix Mendelssohn Composer Felix Mendelssohn

Discover Mendelssohn: full biography, news, features and music to play and download.