JS Bach: Clavier-Ubung III

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: JS Bach
LABELS: Metronome
ALBUM TITLE: JS Bach
WORKS: Clavier-Ubung III
PERFORMER: James Johnstone (organ)
CATALOGUE NO: MET CD 1094  

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Given his long association with the Gabrieli Consort and Players, Florilegium and Trio Sonnerie, it’s no surprise that James Johnstone should seek out a raft of historic instruments for his new Bach series. Even so, having alighted on Clavier-Übung III to set the ball rolling, he’s managed a ‘fit’ that will take some beating. Not only is the Joachim Wagner organ in Trondheim’s Nidaros Cathedral the work of a builder with whom Bach was appreciatively familiar (indeed his last-noted recital was on a Wagner instrument in Potsdam), but the Norwegian organ was commissioned in 1739 – the very year in which Bach published the collection of chorale preludes, fugues and Duetti bookended by the mighty Prelude and Fugue, BWV552.

A glorious earful its 30 stops produce too, though the 16' pedal reed – so commanding when providing cantus firmus bass in the organo pleno numbers – sounds over-assertive at times during the opening Prelude. Then again, the bookending BWV552 is perhaps the least convincingly negotiated portion of a disc generally distinguished by thoughtful, impeccably nuanced playing, reinforced by an instinct for persuasively judged tempos. The reflective delicacy of the first Kyrie, the bubbly conversational poise of the Christ, unser Herr, BWV684, and the adroitly characterised four Duetti all insist that future releases in Johnstone’s cycle will be required listening.

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Paul Riley