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Interview with Christoph Frommen latest volume of the Organ Works of Sigfrid Karg-Elert

Transcript from an interview between Joe Vitacco and Christoph Frommen

Who is Elke Voelker? Tell us a little about her studies and professional career.

Christoph Frommen : Elke Voelker is a German Organist who studied organ with Leo Kraemer and Hans-Juergen Kaiser in Germany. She received a scholarship which allowed her to study with Wolfgang Ruebsam at the University of Chicago, Nicholas Kynaston in London and Michelle Leclerc at the Schola Cantorum in Paris.

After receiving her Concert Diploma she studied privately with Jean Guillou, Daniel Roth, Jon Laukvik, Ludger Lohmann and Piet Kee. Ms Voelker has won several international competitions: In 1995 she won the Grand Prize and Audience Prize at the Internationaler Orgelwettbewerb Dom zu Speyer, and the 2nd Prize of the International Organ Competition Freyming/Lorraine. In 1999 she was finalist of the Concours International d’Orgue de la Ville de Paris and received the Medaille de la Ville de Paris. Through her recordings of the organ works of Sigfrid Karg-Elert she has established an excellent reputation and is now an organist who has an extensive international concert and teaching career.

How did you and Elke Voelker come to record this cycle of organ works of Sigfrid Karg-Elert?

Christoph Frommen : Ms. Voelker spent a considerable amount of time researching the life and compositions of the German Composer, Sigfrid Karg-Elert. She contacted me in 1998 and we met and finally decided to collaborate to record Karg-Elert’s organ works on appropriate instruments that match the time period of the compositions. The first recording was issued in 1999 on the Aeolus label. All 7 recordings have been well received by the international music press.

Why was the Walcker organ in the Heidelberg Church of Christ the right organ to record this music on?

Christoph Frommen : The Heidelberg instrument is a beautiful three manual organ from 1903 with 43 stops. It has recently been carefully restored from changes made in the 1950s which added neo-baroque stops to the instrument. It is unfortunate that many old romantic organs frequently found it almost impossible to escape from similar changes. Though happily the restored organ is now perfectly contemporary to the music and offers all the colors required by the composer.

Tell us a little about Karg-Elert’s 66 Chorale Improvisations, Opus 65.

Christoph Frommen : The 66 Chorale Improvisations are Karg-Elert’s most important opus for the organ and are dedicated to the great organist, Alexandre Guilmant. These works were written for concert and liturgical use and takes the listener on a fascinating voyage of discovery of the Lutheran chorale. They draw inspiration from Johann Sebastian Bach’s Orgelbuechlein and chorale preludes composed by his contemporaries Brahms and Reger, Opus 67, as well as the French composer Alexandre Guilmant’s L’Organiste Liturgiste and Pièces d’orgue dans différents styles.  Their forms consist of fantasies, preludes, postludes, symphonic movements,trios and toccatas for organ. One can immediately recognize Karg-Elert’s style, that to this day still sounds deeply pure and innocent.

Volume 7 of the Karg-Elert series recorded by Elke Voelker is the third and last volume of Opus 65 Chorale Improvisations and contains the numbers 45 to 66. This includes the famous chorale improvisation on Nun danket alle Gott, Opus 65 (Marche Triomphale), Opus 59. The program concludes with a sumptuous composition for organ, brass ensemble and tympani. This last choral improvisation has been recorded for the very first time in this original setting.

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