WORKS: Preludes and Fugues in A minor, BWV 551 & in C minor, BWV 549; Fantasia and Fugue in A minor, BWV 561; Fugues in G, BWV 576, in B minor, BWV 571 & in C minor, BWV 574,
PERFORMER: Simon Preston (organ)
CATALOGUE NO: 453 541-2
Both these discs take a look at Bach’s earlier works for organ and a detailed comparison of them proves a very interesting exercise. Despite the investigations of recent times into Baroque performance practice, which can, without imagination, often result in somewhat ‘standardised’ interpretations, it is rather reassuring to know that personality is still very much alive and well. Both performers are unapologetically themselves. Preston brings his usual panache to bear on his mixed programme and Koopman, less quixotic in his organ-playing than he once was, brings a freedom and ‘literacy’ that naturally comes from his now considerable experience with chamber and choral repertoire.
Preston’s recording is certainly a useful anthology of the earliest compositions, some of which remain only attributed to the young Johann Sebastian, and it fares well while presenting pieces which, although imbued with the confidence of youth, can seem contrived and over-reliant on the procedures of the composer’s immediate predecessors. This repertoire is indeed difficult as these are not the easiest textures and forms to put across, but Preston (on the Klais organ at St John’s, Smith Square) chooses wisely and, in particular, imparts an appropriate elegance to the Italianate genres. To purloin a phrase from the CD notes, Koopman – attempting to recreate the improviser’s ethos – expertly interpenetrates thematic and figurative material in his performances from the historic organ at the Waalse Kerk, Amsterdam. ‘Be bold, try it!’ says Koopman, something he has never been afraid to do. Andrew McCrea