The Organ Music of Bach

Discussion in 'Classical Music' started by Rodrigo de Sá, Jun 19, 2003.

  1. Rodrigo de Sá

    Rodrigo de Sá This club's crushing bore

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    This is almost the same text posted at HFC.

    THE RECORDED ORGAN MUSIC OF BACH

    It is very intimidating to try and be fair to all the organists. They belong to different schools, they had different recording means at their disposal, and more ancient artists couldn't use the DDR organs (the Silbermann, and some others) and most Bach contemporary organs can only now play played. But even so, I think the main approach of the main organists can easily be grasped.

    There are not many integrals. M.C. Alain recorded Bach's integral for three times, Lionel Rogg (also two, I think), André Isoir (once), Olivier Vernet (a recent one), Werner Jacob, Wolfgang Rübsam (twice), Bernard Foccroule (once). Helmut Walcha has three near integrals and Simon Preston one. Koopman has also two quasi integrals. There must be more, but I don't recollect them or don't know them.

    I find it impossible to say which one I prefer in totto. But perhaps the last recording of MC Alain comes closer. Let me explain why.

    MC ALAIN
    The style of MC Alain matured slowly. She knows the organ as most of us know our hands, and she plays Bach from youth. Her father was an organist (an also a kind of organ builder) and all her family is musical and 'organistical' (Jehan Alain was her brother). Seeing MC Alain play is a fantastic experience. She is rather small, and has a very candid appearance; yet she manages the most incredible tempi without any signs of stress: the organ is just an extension of herself.

    She is a very self effacing person. She plays Bach and not MC Alain, in all humbleness. The results are, at best, just marvelous. The chorale settings are often very moving, the preludes and fugues are usually extraordinarily interesting and thrilling, and I don't know any better version of the utmost difficult (to play, because they are a joy to listen to when well played) triosonatas. The music shines when Bach himself makes it shine.

    The organs she chose for the last integral are all but one (for reasons of compass) ancient ones. You can listen to the marvelous Alkmaar Schnitger organ, the beautiful Silbermanns, the marvelous Trost, and many others. Old organs are like very old port: rich, sweet, warm but still vibrant (all is relative: a Schnitger plenum is never warm!). So you can rely on the beauty of the sound.

    I would say if someone wishes to approach Bach he might well start with Marie Claire Alain. Sometime ago there was an interview in Diapason, which was titled: 'Comme Bach' - as Bach. I liked that title.

    With MC Alain Bach's music is very human; it is perhaps religious in the sense that religion is a human emotional experience, but it is not transcendent.

    HELMUT WALCHA
    For a really deep and structural view of Bach music you must turn to Walcha's sublime recordings. It is a great pity that DGG only provides westerners with the last integral, made at Alkmaar and Strassbourg. In Japan you can get hold of the Cappel integral, which is perhaps more interesting (I don't have it, alas). There is also a fantastic recording (1947) of some Bach pieces -- it is my most treasured organ record.

    Be that as it may, the style of Walcha is very austere and is not easily approachable. He never plays for effect, uses sparing registration, and all registration changes are structural, that is, connected to the musical sections of the works. He uses terraced registrations - as Bruckner does in his orchestral works - and this is most effective if not most spectacular.

    His tempo management is also quite different from that of the other organists; Walcha concentrates on the phrases and their connection; therefore you cannot expect him to emphasize a beat or a turn just for 'affekt'. He addresses the structure and not the detail.

    I must say every time I want to study a piece of Bach I refrain from hearing it played by Walcha altogether: I always feel forced to work with him or against him such is the strength of his vision. That doesn't happen with other interpreters.

    Try the Toccata and Fugue in F M, the preludes and fugues in A m, C m and the Passacaglia. Also his Leipzig chorales. His Art of Fugue is just sublime: nothing comes close to it.

    To my mind, Walcha remains the most important organist of the XXth century, and his vision (this is not a pun - he was blind) is the most powerful of all the ones I know. Intimidating? Yes, a bit. But marvelous.

    OTHERS
    Lionel Rogg was very influenced by Walcha; his records, which I do not possess any longer, are very good, if somewhat lacking the sparkle of Walcha and the naturalness of Alain.

    (I'll be briefer from now on). Bernard Foccroule's version is also very natural. The Leipzig Chorales are very beautiful, as are the earlier works of Bach. Foccroulle is an introverted interpreter of Bach, he was affected by modernism and its sparing way of expression but doesn't depend on angles. A very beautiful integral, with a sober expression, never spectacular but deeply felt.

    Olivier Vernet's recently finished integral was much acclaimed in France. He was a kind of protégé of MC Alain, and one really understands why: he is technically extraordinary. Musically he is very consistent. He has a very severe (but rather fast and sometimes almost brutal) approach to Bach. I could do with a little more serenity, but it is really very good. Very recently a record from the integral came out, consisting of preludes and fugues. It is very compelling. I personally would like a little more spirituality in the chorale settings. But I can only recommend it. Try perhaps 'The Leipzig years', four records for the price of two (perhaps three?).

    I rather like Werner Jacob's integral. He plays in all kind of ancient organs and I was extremely touched by the small Silbermanns (in which he plays the Orgelbüchlein). Alas you have to buy the whole, but it is rather cheap. He is somewhat brusque, almost rude, but very frank, and I rather like that.

    André Isoir's has beautiful moments (the chorales, some preludes and most fugues) but it is slightly 'larmoyant', too weepy or at least overtly romantic for my taste in the chorales. Off course, in terms of integrity, I can only praise him.

    Rübsam has a Philips version, an objective, fast, reading, very entertaining and impressive, and a Naxos version, rather slow and introspective, sometimes very difficult to follow in terms of attention span.

    Last mention to Ton Koopman. A concert by Ton Koopman is an unforgettable experience. Once, after a concert, I was introduced and told him 'C'était fantastique!' (it was fantastic). He smiled and just said: 'Oui'. 'Comment, oui??!!' (how come plain 'oui'?) 'Oui', he repeated. We then laughed.

    I tell this story not to boast of knowing him (he certainly doesn't remember me, and I know many other famous musicians in the same superficial way) and not to show he is a vain man: I mean he just knew he gave it all - he ran all sorts of risks - but it paid. Sometimes it doesn't, and he gets into terrible problems.

    He is brave, very frank, and I admire that. But his approach - all rhythm, drive and strong colours - doesn't always please me. Again, I prefer a more introverted Bach. But if you want a colourful Bach you must at least know Koopman's versions. There are some single records by Archiv and DDG.

    This is rather long, I know. But I love this music, you see, and get quite carried away.
     
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    Rodrigo de Sá, Jun 19, 2003
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  2. Rodrigo de Sá

    Rodrigo de Sá This club's crushing bore

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    I know Herricks's work relatively well. I had a couple of records with the big preludes and fugues and the Passacaglia.

    I remember he was very high spirited - if that means anything. I mean not an introvert, very sound playing, but also a total lack of imagination and a certain dullness.

    I left these records with a girl I used to date - and never bothered to get them back. So you see the extent of my enthusiasm...

    That said, the triosonatas were OK, although a little uninspired, too. Best recordings of the triosonatas is MCAlain's - by far, IMO.

    I agree with you: Koopman is too flourished. I had his record of the TSs, but gave it to a friend... Again.
     
    Rodrigo de Sá, Jun 19, 2003
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  3. Rodrigo de Sá

    titian

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    Lionel Rogg

    Meanwhile I have the complete Bach's organ-work with Walcha, M-C. Alain, Kraft, Jacob, Hurford and the latest Rogg.
    Today I started to hear Rogg's version and I am very impressed on the light way he plays Bach.
    Up to know I have heard the Sonatas BWV 525-530, Passacaglia, Präludium & Fugue 534, 542, 537, 543 & 545 (first 4 LPs) and I am not at all tired :eek: .
    It is true that I am listening to these records while I am working on the computer but the volume level is certainly as high as in the church here in the town where I am living. Actually it is difficult for me to concentrate on my work (not too important anyway) because the interpretation is very dynamic, somewhat light and the recording quality is quite high (or is it the new cartridge Magic Diamond from MicroMagic?). No, it is the way he plays...

    Just smoothly through the notes without big, complicated thoughts and emotions. Of course I am just now in the mood to accept this kind of interpretation. Walcha would be at this moment for me too intelectual
    :confused:.
     
    titian, Sep 14, 2003
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  4. Rodrigo de Sá

    Rodrigo de Sá This club's crushing bore

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    Titian:

    I think you are being a bit condescendet towards Rogg. His versions are VERY good, and he just lets the music through. Yes, he is somewhat characterless in some pieces, but his version (assuming that it is the one I know, played on the Arlesheim Andreas Silberman organ) is, imo, a very commendable one.

    Perhaps you can listen to it without effort because the organ is sweeter than the Schnitgers, Trosts and the like so often used to record Bach. The high stops are not very high and the pipes are very large, producing a very mellow sound.

    AND NOW FOR REALly EARTH SHATTERING NEWS :


    http://www.deutschegrammophon.com/home.htms?NOFLASH=1


    From what I know this will be the organ event of the decade. :eek: :) :) :)
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 24, 2003
    Rodrigo de Sá, Sep 24, 2003
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  5. Rodrigo de Sá

    GrahamN

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    What are we supposed to be looking at? All I see is the DG home page.

    BTW - saw that Minkowski and Les Musiciens du Louvre were in the studio in June recording his arrangement of dance music from Rameau's operas. This should be a must, if it comes out anything like his Proms performance. As one of the reviewers said, maybe it should be titled "NOW that's what I call obscure 18th century opera - 1". Maybe one for Domfjb to add to his NOW collection? :D
     
    GrahamN, Sep 24, 2003
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  6. Rodrigo de Sá

    Herman

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    Perhaps the release of Elvis Costello on DG?

    My guess, however, is RdS is referring to the release of a DG Collector's Edition of Walcha's Bach Organ Works.

    Herman
     
    Herman, Sep 24, 2003
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  7. Rodrigo de Sá

    Rodrigo de Sá This club's crushing bore

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    Graham:

    Sorry, I messed up - it spoilt the effect of the VERY LARGE text...

    Herman:

    Spot on. DGG is releasing the Walcha records from 1947-1952. I have heard some interpretations from that period and they are quite outstanding; nay, absolutely stunning.
     
    Rodrigo de Sá, Sep 25, 2003
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  8. Rodrigo de Sá

    Herman

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    And yet it is the organ event of this decade?

    Herman
     
    Herman, Sep 25, 2003
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  9. Rodrigo de Sá

    Rodrigo de Sá This club's crushing bore

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    Yep. These recordings have been unavailable since the early vinyl days (except in Japan), and they are mythical. The fact that they are finally being released is an important event.

    These recordings are the foundation on which most modern organists (Chapuis, Rogg, to a lesser extent MC Alain) based their work. And, in several aspects, Walcha's Bach is yet to be bettered.
     
    Rodrigo de Sá, Sep 25, 2003
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  10. Rodrigo de Sá

    tones compulsive cantater

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    I've just indulged in the Walcha Bach organ set, going cheap in Musik Hug, Zürich,where Titian believes I live. So far, great stuff. I love the Passacaglia in C, if you can get someone to keep the tension up and not let it flag. Walcha does this - a thrilling version. What I've heard so far has impressed me mightily. I must do some side-by-side comparisons with Marie-Claire Alain's latest set, which I also have.
     
    tones, Nov 16, 2003
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  11. Rodrigo de Sá

    Rodrigo de Sá This club's crushing bore

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    I agree with you 100%. That was Walcha's secret: he managed to maintain the tension at will, without ever sounding boring. As a matter of fact, his interpretations are all based in the increase/release tension of the mucical 'arch' - the structure.

    The Passacaglia is superlative, but listen repeatedly to the a minor Pf (played at Alkmaar) and to the g minor PF (played at Strassbourg). Then try the chorales, perhaps the Leipzig ones first.

    If you liked it, try this one:

    http://www.amazon.fr/exec/obidos/AS...21722/sr=1-1/ref=sr_1_1_1/402-8497843-4399341

    Best Goldbergs ever, one of the really great versions of the WTC, bust version ever of the Inventions and Symphonies.

    Also, for a more relaxed view - he was past seventy:

    http://www.amazon.fr/exec/obidos/AS...21963/sr=1-5/ref=sr_1_1_5/402-8497843-4399341

    http://www.amazon.fr/exec/obidos/AS...21963/sr=1-6/ref=sr_1_1_6/402-8497843-4399341
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 22, 2003
    Rodrigo de Sá, Nov 22, 2003
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  12. Rodrigo de Sá

    TonyL Club Krautrock Plinque

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    I've been listening to a fair bit of Bach recently, though I have nothing even approaching the knowledge of others here. I've had access to a lot of high quality and absurdly cheap second hand classical vinyl over the past couple of months and have built up a collection just over 4 foot long, amongst this lot are a few nice Bach items…

    Bach Orchestral Works including Brandenburg Concertos - Imusici / English Chamber Orchestra Raymond Leppard (Philips 9LP box). This is absolutely wonderful, I've played the whole thing through a couple of times so far, it is so good to hear the whole works for pieces I was barely familiar with – this box is certainly teaching me that I love Bach!

    Bach Brandenburg Concertos - Academy of St Martins in the Fields / Neville Marriner (Philips 2xLP box). Its really interesting to compare this version with the same pieces on the above set. I can't really decide which version I prefer, both seem equally excellent.

    Bach Brandenburg Concertos - Berlin Philharmonic / Karajan (DG 2LP box). This sounds really different to the above two versions, and so far I prefer either of the above. This one seems to lack some of the magic, but I really struggle at putting what I mean into words. In a way it sounds heavy handed, but as I don't know what its all meant to sound like so who knows!

    I'd be very interested in other peoples impressions on the above - i.e. are any 'known good versions'. I find classical music pretty baffling as there are just so many takes on a given piece, and they often seem so different to one another that it can be the difference between liking or disliking the actual music dependant which you hear first!

    Tony.
     
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    TonyL, Dec 1, 2003
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  13. Rodrigo de Sá

    tones compulsive cantater

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    Hi, Tony, just some comments on the Brandenburgs. Herbie von K's are quite old, done with the full Berlin Philharmonic. Beautifully played, as one would expect from what is probably the world's premier symphony orchestra, but much too heavy for my liking. Herbie von K. was really a man for the 19th. century Romantics and not really in tune with the baroque era. As a result, the Berlin Phil. versions are staid and uninteresting, lacking the sparkle of the better versions.

    Depending on which ASMF, you might have hit on a real gem. The ASMF's first venture was with an odd edition prepared by musicologist Thurston Dart, and with quite different instrumentation than that to which we're used. For example, he dumped the stratospheric F trumpet in No.2. (This is the only known instance of such a trumpet, and many people have thought that it's some sort of mistake - but nothing is more thrilling than that trumpet part, the most difficult Bach ever wrote).

    The second one is a whopper, in my opinion, the best non-original instrument version ever recorded, and a strong candidate for the best of any kind. As well as the ASMF on top form, it features a stellar cast of soloists (Henryk Szeryng, Michala Petri, George Malcolm, André Bernard, Jean-Pierre Rampal). The playing is wonderful, and Nev, Iona and the ASMF are on full bounce and a joy to listen to. I suspect that this is your one, as I also have the 2 Philips vinyl set (except that I didn't get them cheaply!). It's my favourite version. In my opinion, the only thing that competes is the original instrument version of Musica Antiqua Köln under Reinhard Goebel.

    Both I Musici and the ECO always give solid, reliable performances, but I don't know these versions.

    Personally, I find the variety of interpretation of classical great - you always have to be prepared to listen to different interpretations, because they appeal (or don't appeal) in different ways.
     
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    tones, Dec 1, 2003
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  14. Rodrigo de Sá

    TonyL Club Krautrock Plinque

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    Its Philips 6700 045 and dates from 1971 and has Thurston Dart credited on the cover, so I guess is the one with the 'weird trumpet'. I will pay closer attention to the trumpet part on No. 2.

    The 9LP box is Philips 6747 098 and comprises recordings spanning from 1961 to 74. The Imusici Brandenburgs date from 1965.

    The karajan / BPO set is DG 2707 112 and dates from 1980.

    Tony.
     
    TonyL, Dec 1, 2003
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  15. Rodrigo de Sá

    TonyL Club Krautrock Plinque

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    I've got the Beethoven symphonies fairly well covered! I've got two copies of Karajan's 60s cycle on DG (so if anyone wants to make me an offer for one….), I've also got his late 70s cycle also on DG, the Klemperer cycle from the late 50s on HMV and also the vintage Toscanini cycle on RCA! I haven't even started to form an impression on this lot...

    Another current fav is Anda's Mozart piano concertos on DG, this is a 12LP box and has really opened this work up for me.

    Tony.
     
    TonyL, Dec 1, 2003
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  16. Rodrigo de Sá

    tones compulsive cantater

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    The Karajan DGG '62 and '75 (I think) cycles are among the greats (he made another one during the '80s and it's not in the same class - Herbie was going downhill at that stage). Otto Klemperer's cycle is very grand and majestic, but quite slow - often v-e-r-y slow. But that's how he liked it. When famous engineer Walter Legge complained about the too-slow tempo, Klemperer said, "you'll get used to it" - and to add insult to injury, he'd ring up Legge from the podium periodically to ask, "Are you used to it yet, Walter?"

    Arturo's versions are fiery, like the man himself, and among the great classics.

    And the Anda Mozarts are great (my father-in-law had that boxed set).
     
    tones, Dec 1, 2003
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  17. Rodrigo de Sá

    Rodrigo de Sá This club's crushing bore

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    I received the Walcha 47-52 yesterday. Listened to about half of it and will report - not at length - soon.
     
    Rodrigo de Sá, Jan 24, 2004
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  18. Rodrigo de Sá

    Rodrigo de Sá This club's crushing bore

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    THE FIRST BACH ORGAN INTEGRAL OF HELMUT WALCHA

    I waited for these records for more than 15 years. I knew they were available in Japan, but I could never get hold of them. They are here, now.

    Being a first integral it is impossible not to compare it to the second one. But, in fact, there are at least three very definite periods of recording, and four different organs to consider. There is a rather long preface, here, that gives you the historical background. If you do not want to read it, skip to THE APPRAISAL, below.

    PRELIMINARY NOTICE ABOUT HOW AN ORGAN WORKS; TO BE SKIPPED IF ONE IS LAZY, BUT NEVERTHELESS RATHER IMPORTANT.

    When talking about organs one has to remember that an 8' sounds at diapason pitch; a 4' is the octave; the 2' is the double octave, the 1' is the treble octave; the 16' is a suboctave stop. The mixtures are artificial harmonics, mainly composed of fifths and octaves, sometimes with a third that adds piquancy to the sound. There are also reeds, often very bright and rasping (not so in the Pedal, where they tend to be booming and thunderous), and flutes, soft and prompt of speech; the basic organ tone is given by the principals. The art of registration lies in the mixing of several tone colours and different heights of tone at the same time: a given note may sound, at once, a suboctave stop, a diapason one, the octave, the quint (3rd harmonic) the double octave, and mixed very high quints and octaves – that gives you the common plenum sound; or you could use say a flute 8' and a flute 2' – a piquant but nevertheless soft sound.

    THE BACH OEUVRE

    The organ music of JSBach was composed, for a great part, in his early years. It may be classified into four groups of works. First, the praeludium and fuga: a long Prelude is followed by an equally long fugue in the same key. Second the Chorale Prelude: a more or less free piece that is based on a hymn; they can be very long or rather short. Third, the Chorale Variation: a set of variations is based on a choral (a hymn). Fourth and last, the trio sonata: a dauntingly difficult exercise of how to play two completely independent treble voices (with two hands on two keyboards) on an often lively pedal line. To be exhaustive one must deal with each of these genres but I won't be thorough. I'll only mention them.

    THE VERSIONS

    There are two versions, as we have seen. The first one (the one under analysis) was made on the Lübeck and the Cappel organs; the second one (the stereo one) was done in the Alkmaar Laurenskerk and the Strasbourg Silberman of Saint Pierre de Jeune.

    *Lübecker Dom

    The first batch of recordings was started in 1947, in the Lübeck Dom klein organ. This is a very old organ – the only Lübeck organ surviving the bombing during the war. Its character is very odd: a very old (Renaissance) Hauptwerk, almost surely made mainly of lead pipes, and an early 16th century addition by Stellwagen: a piercing Rückpositiv, a clear Brustpositiv and a gracile Pedal. At the time of Walcha's recordings the pedals had been enlarged, featuring a strong reed battery (16', 8', 4') plus the pulldowns from the Hauptwerk and soloist voices (4', 2' and even 1').
    Sound taking is rather good: the microphones were located somewhere near the Rückpositiv, which therefore sounds very bright and present whereas the Hauptwerk sound broad and distant (as it should). Reverberation seems less important than it actually is, but it is still present.

    *The Cappel Schnitger

    When Archiv wanted to pursue Walcha's recordings LP had imposed itself as the medium par excellence, and on its less noisy surface the traffic sound of the Lübecker Kirche could be heard (as it can now, sometimes, in CD). They therefore had to search for a new organ. The choice fell on a wonderful instrument – the work of Arp Schnitger no less – in a very small chapel. The sound is very beautiful but it is too big for the church (it was purchased from a much larger church) and there is almost no reverberation. The very dry acoustics let everything through – you actually listen to everything the organist does and all irregularities of pipe sound. It is not the popular view of organ sound but I, for one, like dry acoustics very much when Bach is to be played: all the counterpoint is listenable.

    *The Alkmaar recordings

    With the advent of stereo Archiv started all over again; the Cappel organ having been ruined by central heating (cracks in the windchests). Now the organ of Alkmaar is a very big one, provided almost only with principals and reeds, with very strong mixtures. It is good for the free Praeludia and the fugues, but awful for the chorales, because they often require flutes upon which a stronger stop intones the hymn.

    The sound engineer messed up badly on these records. Being a very broad (even if it is rather clear) acoustic, an organist is obliged to take the music slowly. However, reverberation time is almost non existent and the microphones were placed too close to the organ. Walcha therefore seems to play ponderously in many an occasion; truth is, he is only respecting the acoustics of the place, but what you actually listen to may seem sluggish and pachydermic (the great C major and G major Preludes are impossibly slow).

    *Saint-Pierre-le Jeune

    Walcha preferred a less aggressive instrument to play the chorale settings, and, therefore, the Archiv crew went in search for another historic instrument. One possibility was the very large Arp Schnitger organ in Zwolle, Holland, but it was discarded by the Archiv directors because it was tuned a tone higher than A=450. This was undoubtedly the most stupid decision. The Zwolle organ is magnificent, it had just undergone restauration, and had everything one might need. Instead, Dr. Gerd Ploebsch (I think it was him, I'm not sure) insisted that a Silberman instrument be used. Now there are several different Silbermans. They were two brothers, Gottfried, a friend of Bach's, whose work was behind the iron curtain and therefore impossible to record. And Johann Andreas, often referred to as Jean-Henri, who worked in Alsace in the French tradition (which is completely different from the North German one Walcha preferred – the sound is round, the mixtures are rather low and weaker, the reeds aren't deep or bright, but rather sonorous and clamorous.

    Archiv wanted an Alsatian Silberman (God knows why!). Walcha tried some, but they were all impossible – compass limitations prevented playing Bach. The choice therefore fell on the Saint-Pierre-le-Jeune one. It is not really a Silberman. Just the Grand Orgue; the rest was made chiefly by Alfred Kern. The organ stands in the middle of the church, and is, therefore, drowned in acoustic reverberation. This comes across in the recordings: the treble is rather less present than it should be; and the softer and less precise French sound guarantees that you don't get the polyphony. It is rather beautiful, but I would have preferred a more manly organ; this sugary thing is both a compromise (it is a French organ built by a German builder) and a historical error (the organ was really made up by Kern, and it was not originally intended for such a huge space).

    THE APPRAISAL – STOP: HERE I ACTUALLY BEGIN TO COMMENT ON THE RECORDINGS!!!!!!

    Welcome to those who skipped the preceding information. How does he fare?

    * Walcha's style

    Walcha is unique. He plays as no one else. And, judging from his principles (he published them in his edition of the 6 voice Ricercare, at Peters Verlag) one would say he would play rubbish: all depends on the strict maintenance of pulse, on not altering or even bending any rhythmic pattern, and on the precise duration of the silences between the notes. Theoretically, this is achieved by singing each voice and determining the articulation points, which are, therefore, different in every voice (which is rather difficult to do when playing a really difficult piece).

    However, the results totally transcend these maniac intentions. It is true that he is rather square; but as every voice is actually played by itself, there is never any overall squareness: you just listen to every voice he plays. If you like counterpoint, you will love it.

    The overall intention is the transparency of every voice. He therefore uses rather bright (but not piercingly so) registrations and used a very odd system of detached style. It is not bizarre as in Gould, and it is rather less marked and more thought out, but the result is that you have very distinct rhythmic patterns in one voice that sparkle through the harmony (the other voices being played slightly detached, as is the basic organ touch) making every voice listenable.

    Although he claims he doesn't introduce rubatto, this is quite false. He doesn't do it over a few bars, that is true (as Leonhardt and his school do); but there are very long stretches of music that are very slightly (but detectably) bended, so you have an incredible structural view of music. There are no 'effects': just the stating of the structures. This produces, as it were, very tense arches of music, which build up to form the overall structure. It is not easy to grasp at first audition, but one can become totally addicted to it.

    His style did slowly change. His first recordings were very intense (up to the Art of Fugue and the Alkmaar recordings) but later he became somewhat appeased. He played faster, with less accentuation and perhaps more fluidity but less relief. Therefore, when comparing the chorale works, this comes as a pleasant surprise: they are almost always more expressive in the early days.

    *The recordings

    Well, the Lübeck recordings are different from the Cappel ones: they are freer, and the organ imposes a very impressive contrast between the Positiv and the Hauptwerk. This is very clearly seen in the Variations on Sei gegrusset, Jesu Gütig. The penultimate variation, very impressively sounds ond the piercing Rückpositiv plenum, and the chorale (the hymn tune) sounds, in canon, on the Haupwerk trumpet and mixture; the bass has the 16' Trombone. It is the most beautiful – perhaps I ought to say tragic, impressive, spine chilling – version of this work I have ever heard. I would say that just for that it is worth buying the set. (Comparisons can be made to both the Alkmaar and the Saint-Pierre versions; they were all issued on CD).

    Also, the Organ Mass is extremely taking: he plays rather slower than the Saint-Pierre version, and is therefore, much more poetic.

    He recorded most Preludes and Fugues at Cappel. This was a very good decision, because in fugues is where you really need transparency. All the polyphony sparkles and his tempos are rather well chosen. In a few cases I prefer the more recent recordings (I prefer the g minor, BWV 535, Saint Pierre version; I prefer the great A minor at Alkmaar, and I definitely prefer the Doric fugue at Alkmaar, although the toccata is too slow there).

    The early preludes in particular are much more interesting than those of the later edition (where they are played at Saint-Pierre). In absolute terms, they are *very* good indeed. If I disregard sonic considerations (the sound is not always perfect at Cappel, tending to congestion when the third sounding cymbal is added, as it often is in the finales), they are top notch, and easily outplay everybody else.

    The greater preludes and fugues really shine: rhythmic precision and bounce in the preludes, incredible polyphony transparency in the fugues). The Passacaglia, for instance, is sublime – even better than the Alkmaar one.

    The chorale settings played in Cappel are very different from the Saint-Pierre ones. Although he is playing in an unreverberated space he is *slower* and freer in Cappel than in the huge acoustic of Saint-Pierre, where he is perhaps too cold. This is obvious both from the Leipzig chorales and the Orgelbüchlein (although I could see several pieces of the Orgelbüchlein more freely – for instance, O Mensch bewein dein Sünde gross; in this kind of music, MC Alain is the undisputed master, I think – the human side of Bach's music).

    The trio sonatas are much better than the more recent edition: faster, livelier and perhaps more expressive.

    CONCLUSION

    Do I recommend this set? Well, it depends on what you like in music. If you like counterpoint and don't object to a clearly dated sound, I surely do. If you like Walcha, this is an absolute must. If you are more romantically oriented and prefer the beautiful reverberated sound of more recent versions, avoid this. It's pointed, modernistic, almost mondrianesque. A Bach of steel and glass.

    LAST WORDS

    I would be omitting something that touched me deeply. When you place CD1 on the tray and press 'play', instead of an organ, you listen, in a marvellously clear Hochdeutsch accent and a ringing soprano voice, to : 'Quintadehn Acht'. And then you listen to a short improvisation by Walcha using that stop. Several other stops are demonstrated and several combinations of stops.

    I don't know who is the 'Dichter' – that is, the person to whom the voice belongs – was, but I hope it was his wife, Ursula Walcha, née Koch, who used to help him with the registers and with the memorizing of the partitions (she played every voice twice on the harpsichord and he built it up on his brain, memorized it, and started to study the architecture, the articulation of every voice, the fingering and the registration).
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 30, 2004
    Rodrigo de Sá, Jan 30, 2004
    #18
  19. Rodrigo de Sá

    bat Connoisseur Par Excelence

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    Bach's organ works by Knud Vad

    Does anyone know the Knud Vad recording of Bach's complete
    organ works? I just ordered it for 20 Euros.
     
    bat, Feb 18, 2004
    #19
  20. Rodrigo de Sá

    tones compulsive cantater

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    Welcome to the Forum, Bat.

    I certainly don't, but if anyone does it'll be resident organist and organ expert RdS. He'll be along just as soon as he can tear himself away from his new harpsichord...

    Read this thread too

    https://www.audio-forums.com/as-rediect/showthread.php?s=&threadid=20

    RdS inadvertently omitted the "organ" from the title.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 18, 2004
    tones, Feb 18, 2004
    #20
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