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Haunting and unmistakable are the flute sounds of the historic organ in the Martinikerk, Groningen. Martinikerk Rondeau is the stand-alone DVD spun off from Pronkjuwelen in Stad en Ommenland – a 5-CD, hardback book and DVD package examining the organ landscape of Groningen and neighbouring villages in the Netherlands. The Martinikerk organ is of incalculable importance because it spans 500 years of organ history including gothic, renaissance, baroque, rococo and romantic elements. Arp Schnitger is the central figure in the history and Martinikerk Rondeau contextualises the instrument with visits to organs in the region which retain the ‘pure’ styles of the various historic periods; the narrative explains and celebrates the historic craft of organ building (there is a detailed pipe-making demo) and confronts head-on the central debate on restoration, most notably when discussing, with commendable pragmatism, the various 19th- and 20th-century impacts on the old organs.

Director Will Fraser never lets time constraints dictate the unhurried pace of his visual story-telling, but is sometimes over-anxious to illustrate every point with bouts of fast cutting from his static camera and extensive library of illustrative stills. But who would quibble over the comprehensive shot-lists of these exquisite organs – at one point Fraser overcomes the lack of a jib-mounted camera by hopping on a ferris wheel adjacent to the Martinikerk to claim some elevated exterior shots of the church.

Woven through the narrative are musical illustrations performed mostly by Sietze de Vries. And in the sprightly octogenarian organ consultant Cornelius Edskes he has a compelling protagonist, clambering all over the organs and distilling his encyclopedic knowledge and experience into long, fluent pieces-to-camera which look as though they only ever require one take. Other organ-builder witnesses include Cor’s brother Bernhardt, and Jürgen Ahrend, who worked on the last major Martinikerk restoration. In a DVD extra, eminent Dutch consultant Jan Jongepier [see obituary, p.17) talks about the 1795 F.C. Schnitger/Freytag organ at Zuidbroek – a 95 per cent original instrument credited as the ‘farewell’ to the 18th-century organ. But in the end everything comes back to the human star of the show, Cor Edskes; we leave him sitting candle-lit in his Groningen retirement apartment, making the case for ‘subjective objectivity’ in organ restoration and providing a lucid, unsentimental assessment of the future of historic organs as they risk becoming increasingly marginalised by the onward march of the secular society. This DVD offers an utterly enthralling way to learn about the Dutch and North German organ tradition, and why its preservation isn’t just an obligation, but a necessity.

GRAEME KAY Read the full review on Agora Classica

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Choir & Organ, 2012 - ©Rhinegold Publishing