In Search Of The Bach Sound Ideal

Discussion in 'Classical Music' started by Rodrigo de Sá, Oct 26, 2003.

  1. Rodrigo de Sá

    Rodrigo de Sá This club's crushing bore

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    IN SEARCH OF THE BACH ORGAN.

    From Schweitzer's days – indeed, before that – there is a very pressing question when one plays Bach: what was the Bach sound ideal?

    Of course, Bach wanted different things at different times in his life. But is there any organ he favoured over others?

    Some very wrong opinions were influential (the Silbermans, the Schnitgers). During the organ reform movement opinion favoured a delicate sounding, brilliant and not very deep sound which let the polyphony shine quite clearly.

    Now, we DO know Bach liked very powerful organs, with very low sonority and a lot of brilliance.

    Recently the magnificent Altenburg Trost (where M.C. Alain recorded the Passacaglia) has come as a very likely candidate to the status of a good Bach organ. It is, indeed, powerful, very deep and very bright.

    But there is indirect evidence that points to a specific organ that Bach may actually have designed (when the organ was completed, Bach thanked the authorities for following his advice): the Zacharias Hildebrandt organ built for the Wenzelkirche in Naumburg (3 keyboards and pedal, 57 registers, 16' Hauptwerk, 8' Ruckpositiv 8' Oberwerk and 32' Pedal).

    Like almost all the Bach organs, it is located at East Germany. Therefore, funds were lacking for its restoration, although most of the original pipework survived.

    This restoration was finished in December, 2000. I expected a host of records on it. But none appeared and I was afraid the restoration was a failed attempt or, perhaps, that the result was very disappointing. As a matter of fact, Peter Williams mentioned the 'dull voicing', a Westfallian characteristic, of Zacharias Hildebrandt (a close friend of Bach and invariably recommended by him); could Bach have liked an ugly and dull sound? It seemed possible, given the harpsichords he liked (not very bright) or the 'lautenwerk' (a harpsichord with gut stringing, supposed to imitate the lute).

    I was, therefore, expecting to be disappointed.

    Calcante Recordings (an American organ buff label) proposed a double CD with Bach works played in the renovated organ. As it is one of the very few recordings, I ordered it. Soon after I received a letter saying the disk was out of stock and that they would send it to me if it were to be released again. I naturally forgot about the issue: small labels don't usually reissue CDs.

    But Friday I received a package from the Organ Historical Society: I opened it, and there it was. I cancelled all social appointments I had for the evening and, as soon as I could free myself (9.30 pm!!) I rushed home for 2 hours and a half of THE Bach organ.

    Now I'm not exaggerating: I was quite prepared for a disappointment. No records so far, only this one by an American unknown organist, Peter Williams and the Westfallian voicing… Well.

    I was so impatient I just thrust the record into the CDP – I didn't even bother to check the volume (which was quite high, as it happens).

    I was greeted by a monster ContraPosaune 32' and a very brilliant and powerful tutti that quite literally filled the room. The record didn't use equalization, compression or any other trick: it was just taken from the church ground, as any person (but the organist, of course) would listen to it. It was quite an experience.

    As the record went on, I could see the voicing is not at all dull; on the contrary, the organ is quite bright and quite dark at the same time; that is, the sound is very round BUT very brilliant. A kind of pumped up Silberman. The principals are very bright but very present, with a strange poignantly dark sound.

    There is a huge gamut of possibilities for sound varying (which the organist, Robert Clark, doesn't really exploit) and you can play with a single stop or will the roaring tutti without unsettling the wind.

    It is very different from a Schnitger: it is fuller and has many more colours. It is also more powerful, because you can draw more stops together, and the 32' trombone is much heavier than the Schnitger counterparts.

    It is true it is perhaps not as delicately voiced as a Silberman but then it is quite another league of animal: it has more power, and many more colours; the plenum is much brighter.

    All the pipes speak promptly: the 16 foot principal of the Hauptwerk is as fast as the 8 foot, which is very important for polyphony.

    I won't say it is the most beautiful organ I have ever heard – I retain a partiality for the Schnitgers – but it does give you an extraordinary insight into the Bach sound ideal.

    You can get it here: http://store.yahoo.com/ohscatalog/bacatnaumcla.html

    Mind you: no compression means it can blow your speakers if you overdo it!


    http://store.yahoo.com/ohscatalog/bacatnaumcla.html
     
    Rodrigo de Sá, Oct 26, 2003
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  2. Rodrigo de Sá

    Rodrigo de Sá This club's crushing bore

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    Rodrigo de Sá, Oct 26, 2003
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  3. Rodrigo de Sá

    titian

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    Thank's RdS for this recommendation.
    I will put it in my 'to buy' list but won't buy it until I heard the complete Bach's organ music with Hurford and half of his works with Rogg.
     
    titian, Oct 26, 2003
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  4. Rodrigo de Sá

    Rodrigo de Sá This club's crushing bore

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    Titian:

    Thank you. But you might consider buying it even if you don't plan to listen to it right now. It is the kind of records that go out of stock really fast and, what is more, you get a lot of information on the organ itself and quite detailed registration indications (unlike the ones by MC Alain, which are often wrong) that allow you to really understand how this organ works.

    Also, the recording is very good, and it is likely that morte recent recordings are more closely miked, and more mixed up by sound engineers than this particular one.

    Also, the playing is not superlative, but it is rather good - it won't get in the way and some pieces are really well played.
     
    Rodrigo de Sá, Oct 26, 2003
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