Bach: Clavier-Ãœbung III

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COMPOSERS: Bach
LABELS: BIS
WORKS: Clavier-Übung III
PERFORMER: Masaaki Suzuki (organ); Bach Collegium Japan Choir
CATALOGUE NO: CD-1091-92
Single-disc musical offerings of selected Bach organ works seem to be a rare commodity nowadays, and indeed three of the four discs under review here form part of complete overviews of his organ music. Comparisons between them are intriguing, especially since two of the organists have chosen the same instrument on which to record.

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In Vol. 8 of his survey, Gerhard Weinberger follows the generally accepted view that many of Bach’s toccatas and fantasias were composed separately from their ‘paired’ fugue, and as such, the fugues from the famous Toccata in F and Fantasia in G minor are not included here. Accustomed to their traditional pairings, I do find the result rather unsatisfying on a musical level, especially without the textural contrast of a fugue. Nevertheless, Weinberger brings some sparkling playing to the virtuosic Toccata in F and tautly controlled rhythmic drive to the Toccata in C. Less convincing is his tendency to lace the slower-moving melodic lines of such pieces as the C minor Fantasia with fussy ornamentation, which conceals the simple eloquence of the original and even stretches the underlying pulse of the music to breaking point. His chosen instrument is the 1691 Arp Schnitger organ of the Martinikirk in Groningen, which sounds a delight, even through a boxy, lustreless recording.

By comparison, the Teldec engineers find a much more genuine, lively aural perspective to the same organ on Ton Koopman’s final two discs of his complete survey. Included are the six concertos, miscellaneous fugues and a wonderfully played Wedge Prelude and Fugue. Here Koopman chooses his tempi wisely, so that the rhythmic propulsion of the music comes from within rather than being imposed by the performer. His experience as a chamber musician comes to the fore in the concertos, and one feels a palpable sense of his pleasure in the playful interchanges between ‘orchestra’ and ‘soloists’ in the music. Overall, a splendid achievement on many levels.

Kevin Bowyer’s pilgrimage arrives at organ music from Bach’s early years and, although he gives technically authoritative performances throughout, I do feel a sense of freshness and imagination lacking in his delivery of the music, especially the more expressive chorale preludes.

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Lastly, Masaaki Suzuki joins forces with the choir of Bach Collegium Japan in a pleasing and thoughtful performance of Bach’s German Organ Mass, capturing the style and mood of these miniatures nicely. Stephen Haylett