WORKS: Organ Works (complete)
PERFORMER: Marie-Claire Alain (organ)
CATALOGUE NO: 4509-96358-2 DDD
Marie-Claire Alain’s career has been particularly well-documented by her recording company, Erato. Complete cycles fill her contribution to the organ catalogue, and this, I think, says much about her attitude to her life and work. One can sense a penetrating and ever-enquiring mind at work when listening to her recordings, and if, to some, this lends credence to the charge of an idiosyncratic, or even headstrong style of playing, it at least makes one sit up and think about the music.
This is Alain’s third complete survey of Bach’s organ literature; the previous two were recorded in die early Sixties and Seventies on modern instruments. What marks out this cycle, recorded between 1985 and 1993, is the use of a number of hand-picked historic organs on which to record. These instruments, centring on the work of two of the finest organ builders of the period, Arp Schnitger and Gottfried Silbermann, have a predominantly heavy mechanical action, which throws up all sorts of choices as regards speed and articulation. Marie-Claire Alain’s response to this is as capricious as it is fascinating. For instance, in the Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor, Alain has the feeling both for the moment and for the overall design, and the fugue is allowed to move towards its final thrilling cadence with an inexorable flow. By contrast, in the great G minor Fantasia and Fugue, Alain seems intent on pushing the music on faster than the organ wishes to allow, to rather comical effect in the pedal line of die fugue. Most discs are presented in recital format, each with a fair sprinkling of various genres — some even subtitled: Bach ‘The Philosopher’ or ‘Universal Genius’. However, Alain saves some of her finest playing for the disc devoted to the trio sonatas. Even through a slightly hazy recording, these accounts shine out with radiant warmth and flair. Sample the final movement of the Third Sonata for the fleet, mercurial touch Alain brings to the counterpoint.
If you can accede to Marie-Claire Alain’s view of Bach as humanist and philosopher, these recordings are indispensable. Stephen Hoylett