WORKS: Preludes and Fugues BWV 531, 533, 537, 549; Chorale Preludes; Partita BWV 766
PERFORMER: Marie-Claire Alain (organ)
CATALOGUE NO: 2292 45808 2 (IV); 2292 45809 2 (V) DDD
These are two classy and important discs, which should stay in the recording catalogue for many years to come. Marie-Claire Alain has a persuasive vision of how the organ was played by Bach, and both discs are recorded on the beautiful Silbermann organ in St George’s Church, Rotha, Germany.
There are people who wonder why interpreters of early music prefer illegible facsimile editions to modern printed scores, and those people may also wonder why an organ has been chosen which sounds uneven and occasionally out of tune.
Only part of the answer lies in the claim that this historic instrument, with its original 18th-century pipework, console and action, is one which Bach may well have played. What is more important is its engaging beauty; with just 23 stops, delicately balanced within the chorus, the Silbermann organ offers greater versatility than many much larger instruments could hope to achieve. The booklet helpfully lists the combination of stops used for each piece – and some of the loveliest pieces are recorded using just a single stop.
Neither disc stands on its own. As part of a complete recording of Bach’s organ works, these volumes include a number of less important works from Bach’s early years, which are incorporated on the strength of their authorship alone. This should not be thought of as an impulse buy, then, but more as part of a valuable investment for any serious student of Bach.
In Volume V, by the way, someone has switched the order of the works without telling the printer, so you may not be listening to the piece you think you are. James Whitboum