Books: Pronkjuwelen in Stad en Ommeland – The Historic Organs of the Province of Groningen

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, 10-2-2010