Organist David Goode talks about recording the BBC Music Magazine May issue’s cover CD of Bach, on the 1714 Silbermann organ in Freiberg Cathedral, Germany.
What did you find most exciting about playing this instrument?
A lot of excitement comes from physically engaging with an instrument that Bach could have played. There’s a magic about having that connection with the past and hearing the same sounds as would have been heard back then. And there’s a thrill about what the organ itself gives to the music, moulding the way one can interpret it. That’s a revelation, too. So the whole recording sessions were a sort of voyage of exploration.
How did this organ shape your own interpretation of the music?
Sometimes it was a question of speed, articulation or the way I shaped phrases to respond to the instrument. One particular quirk was that the pedal board stopped at top C, so we had to work round the physical limitations and create out of that an interpretative virtue.
For you, what were the most beautiful parts of the Silbermann?
The great thing about Silbermann organs is that every stop is beautiful – even a soft stop on his organs has enormous carrying power and character. You can play on the pedals on just one 16-foot stop, for instance, and it still sounds musical. The quiet solo reeds are wonderful, too – you can hear the vox humana in O Mensch, Bewein’ (track 13). Also the rather wonderful one-foot stop in the C major fugue (track 3) which tinkles away with this fantastic glittering brightness. And the whole ensemble is totally inspiring.
What were the challenges of playing this instrument?
Of course, there are technical challenges – switching from the Hauptwerk manual to the Brustwerk (a heavy action followed by a light action), is always a little tricky. And a small straight pedal board is always a challenge if you’re used to playing a modern one. But it’s actually really stimulating, a bit like playing Beethoven on a fortepiano. The struggle is almost a positive aspect of interpreting the music because you have so much to get hold of and deal with. It becomes a real experience, if that makes sense – it’s never glib. You really have to think – how will I be able to get round this phrase? So it becomes a very fruitful thing having the technical challenges of an old instrument.
What about the recording sessions? Did they go well?
It was such a pleasurable experience. Recordings vary: sometimes you’re up against the clock and sometimes the repertoire is a challenge, the organ is a challenge or some other circumstance might contrive against you. But I felt with this project that absolutely everything was right – I love the repertoire, I loved the instrument, we had an absolutely fantastic team and it was very well planned.
How would you sell this disc to a non-organist?
Well, I think it’s beautiful music, music that can appeal to the non-musician – or certainly the non-organist – as well as the expert. That’s Bach’s great genius. I think hearing sounds from more than 200 years ago is a bit like an archaeological dig you might watch on TV; there’s a fascination about listening to the sounds that Bach might have heard. And, certainly, a non-organist can revel in the beauty of the music – its charm and variety.
Interview by Oliver Condy
The May issue of BBC Music Magazine is on sale now
YouTube clip: David Goode playing Bach's Prelude from the Prelude and Fugue in G major, BWV 541 at the Silbermann organ in Freiberg Cathedral