Bach: Organ works

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LABELS: ASV Quicksilva
WORKS: Organ works
PERFORMER: James Johnstone (organ)
Though these discs are, as it were, ‘school of Koopman’ (James Johnstone studied with him), they are different in so many respects. Both are recorded on first-class historic organs, including the Waalse Church in Amsterdam with its 1733 Christian Müller organ. Both present a varied programme, with lesser-known pieces nestling amongst the standards. And both, in their way, are highly enjoyable performances.


The chief difference is in their stylistic approach. Where Koopman tends to be measured and undemonstrative, Johnstone uses a greater range of rhetorical gesture. Johnstone seems to take to heart the contemporary accounts of Bach’s virtuoso playing (printed helpfully in the booklet notes) and turns in a sparkling G major Prelude and Fugue and a totally engrossing ‘Wedge’. Koopman’s attraction is his ability to control the pace of a piece over time; his A minor Fugue accelerates towards the end, and makes complete sense of the final flourishes by doing so. Personally I find the echo effects at the beginning of the Fantasia in G off-putting and mannered, as indeed is some of the extremely florid ornamentation. But the overall sense of levity is welcome. If push comes to shove, however, I would opt for Johnstone’s more involving readings. William Whitehead