Bach: Toccata, Adagio & Fugue in C, BWV 564; Toccata & Fugue in D minor, BWV 565; Toccata & Fugue in D minor, BWV 538 (Dorian); Toccata & Fugue in F, BWV 540; Schübler Chorales, BWV 645-50

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COMPOSERS: Bach
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Toccata, Adagio & Fugue in C, BWV 564; Toccata & Fugue in D minor, BWV 565; Toccata & Fugue in D minor, BWV 538 (Dorian); Toccata & Fugue in F, BWV 540; Schübler Chorales, BWV 645-50
PERFORMER: John Butt (organ)
CATALOGUE NO: HMU 907249
The programme this disc offers is a good one: thematic, balanced and thoughtful. One would naturally not want to hear, say, the Orgelbüchlein chorales played in one sitting nor every item in Clavierübung III at once. The small collection known as the ‘Schübler Chorales’, however – a set of transcriptions from cantata movements (no model for BWV 646 survives) made by the music engraver Johann Georg Schübler c1748 – are sufficiently varied in musical content. Moreover, through Bach’s annotations to the publication, they are ‘close’ enough to the composer himself to encourage the listener into detailed and digestible listening. As a Bach scholar, Butt is conscious of the significance of Bach’s annotations/corrections in this microcosm of transcribed instrumental textures and melds the scholarly detail into the performances without preciousness. The Metzler organ at Trinity College, Cambridge, serves the purpose well; the Schüblers are an excellent way to get to know the individual stops of a good organ.

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The Toccatas recorded here (all coupled with their familiar Fugues) are Bach’s extant works in this genre with pedal. I find the F major the most successful; but, as any organist must ask him/herself, how does one really play the opening of that famous D minor work, or negotiate with consistently subtle light and shade the repetitive rhythms of the other, less famous – but musically more satisfying – Toccata in the same key (the ‘Dorian’)? Andrew McCrea