Ludwig van Beethoven: Variations, WoO 68
Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy: Organ Sonatas, op.65

Media Review / Listening Diary 2013-01-26

2013-01-26 — Original posting: Beethoven Variations & Mendelssohn Organ Sonatas (on Blogger)
2013-08-07 — New standard layout applied
2014-11-08 — Re-posting as is (WordPress)
2016-07-11 — Brushed up for better readability

Table of Contents

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 – 1827): Variations on the Minuet “à la Viganò“, WoO 68

The CDs

Mikhail Pletnev: Beethoven Variations

Beethoven: Variations & Bagatelles, Pletnev, CD, cover

Ludwig van Beethoven: Variations WoO 63 – 65, 68, 70; Variations op.34; Rondos WoO 48, 49; 2 Rondos op.51; 6 Menuets WoO 10; Bagatelles opp.33 & 119; Bagatelles WoO 52 & 56; “Andante favori” WoO 57, Polonaise op.89

Mikhail Pletnev

DG 457 493-2 (2 CDs, stereo); ℗ 1997

Beethoven: Variations & Bagatelles, Pletnev, CD, UPC-A barcode
Pletnev / Beethoven Variations, amazon media link

Ronald Brautigam: Beethoven Variations

Beethoven: vol.12 - Venni amore, Variations, Brautigam — CD, cover

Ludwig van Beethoven: “Venni Amore“, Variations 1782 – 1795 — WoO 63 – 66, 68 – 70

Ronald Brautigam

BIS Records, BIS-SACD-1883 (SACD); ℗ / © 2012

Beethoven: vol.12 - Venni amore, Variations, Brautigam — CD, EAN-13 barcode
Brautigam / Beethoven Variations, amazon media link

Olli Mustonen: Beethoven Variations, Dances & Bagatelles

Beethoven: Piano Variations, Dances, Bagatelles, Mustonen, CD cover

Ludwig van Beethoven: Variations, Dances & Bagatelles

Olli Mustonen, piano (1995)

Decca 452 206-2 (CD, stereo), ℗ / © 1996

Beethoven: Piano Variations, Dances, Bagatelles, Mustonen, CD, UPC-A barcode
Mustonen / Beethoven Variations, amazon media link


Here’s a short note on three recordings a set of variations by Ludwig van Beethoven: his Variations WoO 68 on the “Menuett à la Viganò from the Ballet “Le nozze disturbate” by Jakob Haibel. Two of these recordings (Pletnev, Brautigam) are on CDs that I already referred to in my Listening Diary 2012-07-28, a third one (Mustonen) just got added last fall. I did already have ratings for Pletnev and Brautigam and found that I did not need to revise them with the addition of the new recording (always good to verify one’s ratings from time to time!). Here are my very brief findings:

Mikhail Pletnev (recording: 1997)

Very virtuosic, but far too smooth / lightweight, if not superficial to me; some of this sounds like a competition for the fastest playing or ornaments.
Rating: 3

Olli Mustonen (recording: 1995)

With his unique, virtuosic staccato playing, Mustonen manages to make a modern Steinway grand sound transparent, light, etc., getting him close to playing on a fortepiano (see also my blog entries on the Bagatelle “Lustig und traurig“, on the 12 Variations WoO 71, and on the “Eroica” Variations, op.35). There’s one shortcoming in this interpretation, though: the theme of these (and other) variations was a popular song that people would sing and whistle on the streets, and at least for the theme itself, but also for some variations, Mustonen’s staccato playing may sound nice / attractive etc. — but it hinders or destroys the cantabile aspect of these melodies (especially compared to Brautigam on the Walter fortepiano!).
Rating: 4

Ronald Brautigam (recording: 2011)

Here, I can simply refer to my notes on Beethoven’s 24 Variations on the Arietta “Venni Amore“, WoO 65, in my Listening Diary 2012-07-28: A modern concert grand can’t possibly compete against Ronald Brautigam playing a Walter fortepiano replica in pieces of this period!
Rating: 5

Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy (1809 – 1847): Organ Sonatas, op.65

The CDs

Heinrich Gurtner

Mendelssohn Bartholdy: 6 Organ Sonatas, Gurtner, CD cover

Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy: Six Organ Sonatas, op.65

Heinrich Gurtner

claves CD 50-715 (CD, stereo); ℗ 1989

Mendelssohn Bartholdy: 6 Organ Sonatas, Gurtner, EAN-13 barcode
amazon media link

Stefan Schättin

Mendelssohn Bartholdy: 6 Organ Sonatas, Schättin, CD cover

Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy: Six Organ Sonatas, op.65

Stefan Schättin

Quantaphon 30.419 (CD, stereo); ℗ / © 1995
Not available in the U.S. (ASIN B0000288DA)



The six organ sonatas op.65 by Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy (1809 – 1847) are pleasant, lovely and popular pieces — not hard to understand, and likely popular with many organists. Heinrich Gurtner (1924 – 2009) played on the Kuhn organ (1930) at the Münster in Berne (4 manuals, 78 ranks, electric traction); Stefan Schättin plays on the Goll-organ (1963) in the Protestant Church in Uster (3 manuals, 54 ranks, electric traction) — I purchased the latter CD after hearing the artist play these sonatas on this instrument. Both organs are well suited for the romantic repertoire; the organ in Berne enjoys the better acoustics from the Berner Münster (one of the few, bigger gothic churches that we have in Switzerland).

op.65/1: Sonata Nr.1 in F minor

  • Schättin: The “recitando” part in the third movement is a bit thin for my taste.
    Rating: 3.3 (3 / 3 / 3 / 4)
  • Gurtner is my slight preference; I like the organ and the registration more. I know, that’s slightly unfair, as the organ in the Swiss capital has substantially more ranks, hence more volume and more colors (though it also sits in a much larger room). In the first movement at least, Gurtner is not just using a typical “romantic” registration, but a rich, bright, almost baroque sound with lots of mixtures added. Very nice flute ranks in the second movement.
    Rating: 4.0 (4 / 4 / 4 / 4)

op.65/2: Sonata Nr.2 in C minor

  • Schättin: I can’t see the first movement as being Grave in this interpretation: it’s rather fast (and loud). Movement 3: the reed stops on this organ are impressive!
    Rating: 3.3 (2 / 4 / 4 / 3)
  • Gurtner: Beats Schättin in volume and sheer sound beauty of the grand jeu in the third movement!
    Rating: 4.0 (4 / 4 / 4 / 4)

op.65/3: Sonata Nr.3 in A major

  • Schättin: In the first movement (Con moto maestoso) Schättin uses a mixed, rich (and well-sounding) “plain jeu” registration; the second movement is done with flute stops — sounds nice, bit perhaps a bit loud for an Andante tranquillo?
    Rating: 4.0 (4 / 4)
  • Gurtner: In the first movement, Gurtner uses dominant reed stops — very clear, but with somewhat less depth than Schättin; the Andante tranquillo mixes flue stops with reeds in the swell box — a calmer setting than what Schättin uses.
    Rating: 4.0 (4 / 4)

op.65/4: Sonata Nr.4 in B♭ major

  • Schättin: I prefer the richer registration in the first movement (more reeds, brighter), while for the other movements I prefer Gurtner’s interpretation.
    Rating: 3.2 (4 / 3 / 3 / 3)
  • Gurtner: In the second movement (Andante religioso) Gurtner uses more flue stops, the movement is more discreet overall — more religioso to me. Also in the third movement, Gurtner is using a more quiet registration, while in the last movement he is slightly more fluent — and the bigger organ / better acoustics also help, of course.
    Rating: 3.8 (3 / 4 / 4 / 4)

op.65/5: Sonata Nr.5 in D major

  • Schättin reverts Mendelssohn’s tempo annotations (Andante vs. Andante con moto) in the first two movements: in his hands, the first one feels like con moto: it feels (and is) slower than the second one.
    Rating 3.3 (3 / 3 / 4)
  • In the third movement, Gurtner‘s maestoso is a somewhat modest one (he obviously tries to avoid making it a pomposo) — but allegro it is.
    Rating 3.7 (4 / 4 / 3)

op.65/6: Sonata Nr.6 in D minor

  • Schättin: Slight preference for this interpretation, mainly because I like the registration in the fugue more than the one Heinrich Gurtner is using for the same piece.
    Rating: 3.8 (3.3 / 4 / 4)
  • Gurtner: see above
    Rating: 3.7 (4 / 3 / 4)


Heinrich Gurtner’s Mendelssohn recording is certainly a viable option – recommending Stefan Schättin’s recording is pointless, as the CD is likely not available commercially (maybe available from the artist directly?). My overall rating for the recording with Heinrich Gurtner is 3.9, the one for Stefan Schättin is 3.5 (with a maximum of 5, as usual), but this is at least partly my preference for the bigger organ in Berne.

The Organs

(Images taken from Google, the files may be protected by copyright).

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