Bach: Orgelbüchlein, with choral excerpts by Scheidt, Handel,

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COMPOSERS: Bach
LABELS: Merlin
WORKS: Orgelbüchlein, with choral excerpts by Scheidt, Handel,
PERFORMER: Anne Page (organ); Cambridge Voices
CATALOGUE NO: MER 99108 CD
The least that can be said of this two-disc set is that it has lots of character. Anne Page plays the three-manual organ built for Trinity College, Cambridge, in the mid-Seventies, incorporating some of Bernard Smith’s work from the early 18th century. Itrecorded closely, without any sense of the building it’s in, and some listeners will prefer it like that.

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Page shows an updated historical awareness, with a lot of détaché playing, articulation broken up into short units, and metrical steadiness maintained only for the longest notes. It’s often said you can’t ‘phrase’ on the organ, whatever that means, but only people who play the instrument understand the fathomless subtlety you can bring to bear by articulation and timing. In ‘Der Tag, der ist so freudenreich’, Page does, indeed, give the impression of sweeping through each line of the hymn tune in one breath, breaking it up into decisive shapes. I’m not always sure, though, whether her shaping of rhythm follows the dictates of an artistic sense or the needs of her fingers and feet, for though these pieces were written for ‘beginners’, they’re far from easy. In ‘Erschienen ist der herrliche Tag’, the faster notes sound like hard work.

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The choral items are by various composers and appropriate to the religious subjects of Bach’s organ pieces, but most of them are unrelated to the hymn tunes he used. They’re sung with great freshness and versatility. If you want the relevant chorales sung, though, Kevin Bowyer’s two-disc set on Nimbus has them. For Bach’s settings alone, Ton Koopman plays the mid-18th-century organ at Ottobeuren. Adrian Jack