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In the November/December 2018 issue of Choir & Organ, I wrote about the significance of Danish organist Finn Viderø. This further pair of recordings provides more aural evidence of one of the most important organists of his time. Viderø was at the heart of the Danish Organ Reform, whose legacy includes the era-defining instruments built by Marcussen under the leadership of Sybrand Zachariassen, an organ type with whose development Viderø was closely associated. In addition to the famous organ at Sorø, volume 2 includes recordings made in Kerteminde (1938, credited with being the organ in which Zachariassen discovered the perceived benefits of giving each division its own case, and those cases are, for the time, astounding) as well as archetypal, and then brand-new, instruments at Varde (1952) and Vejle (by Marcussen’s rival Frobenius, 1956). I described Viderø’s playing in that previous review as ‘anti-romantic’ and that feels especially true in his Bach performances: BWV 546, 562, 544 stripped bare of any added drama; clean, precise, metronomic. Precision and crystalline clarity also deeply imbue the Canonic Variations. But it’s only when one hears Buxtehude’s Te Deum Laudamus, in which any notion of rhetoric is absent and contrast is achieved almost solely through registration, that the paradox at the heart of Viderø’s playing becomes obvious, even if it wouldn’t have been perceived as such in the 1950s. On the one hand, Viderø’s adherence to the long legato line forms his primary means of expression; on the other, his adherence to the best neo-baroque instruments and associated registrations marks him out firmly as a key representative of his time. It would take a figure such as Anton Heiller to significantly develop playing styles associated with pre-1800 repertoire.

Volume 4, meanwhile, draws on an ill-tempered and frustrating 1956 recording session for an LP on the famous Compenius organ at Frederiksborg featuring repertoire encompassing anonymous renaissance dances, music by Sweelinck and Scheidt and even Iberian repertoire by Cabezón and Cabanilles. Music by Walther and Böhm show offthe iconic Zachariassen/Marcussen organ at Jægersborg, where Viderø himself had been organist and had been influential in the organ’s design. But even if one accepts objectively the exceptional quality of these instruments, and that complete absence of anything hinting rhythmical whimsy is as key to the ideals Viderø espoused as that overarching sense of line, the late (1982) recordings of Dandrieu and Marchand on the Husted organ (1978) at Tikøb must have seemed dated even then; the approach is simply too alien to the music, and the (exclusively horizontal) reeds are wearing on the ear. There are significant errors in the printing of the Tikøb specification in the booklet. Most intriguing is the live recording, made in Dallas during Viderø’s period as guest professor at North Texas State University, of works by Jean-Guy Ropartz. This stands far removed from the remainder of the repertoire on the discs, but the conviction with which Viderø performs these pieces, on an organ hardly compliant, further reveals that the romantic environment in which he had grown up remained the dominant influence on his music- making, despite the questing spirit of the Organ Reform ideologies, with which he is mostly now associated. The Introduction et Allegro Moderato is, admittedly, a much more interesting piece than the other Ropartz tracks heard here.

Ultimately, listening through several hours of Finn Viderø’s recordings is a tough ask, not least when the recording technology of the time causes some pitch instability. We assume we understand more now about the interpretation of early repertoire from a myriad of schools, and the organs which prompted that repertoire. But surely part of our instinctive discomfort with such recordings is that they represent the ideals of a generation not so far removed from our own. In 50 years, Viderø’s questing spirit may mark him out as a pioneer; a great not just in his own time, but of the 20th century as a whole.

CHRIS BRAGG Read the full review on Agora Classica

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