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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
A Selection of Pieces from Clavier Übung III (1739)
Praeludium in E flat, BWV 552.i  [9:50]  
Kyrie, Gott Vater, BWV 669 [3:00]  
Christe, aller Welt Trost, BWV 670 [4:16] 
Kyrie, Gott heiliger Geist, BWV 671 [5:43]  
Allein Gott in derr Höh sei Ehr, BWV 676 [5:33]
Dieß sind die heilgen zehen Geboth, BWV 678 [6:22]
Wir gläuben all an einen Gott, BWV 680 [3:22]
Vater unser im Himmelreich, BWV 682 [7:16]
Christ unser Herr zum Jordan kam, BWV 684 [4:41]
Aus tieffer Noth schrei ich zu dir, BWV 686 [7:19] 
Jesus Christus unser Heiland, BWV 688 [4:02]
Fuga in E flat, BWV 552.ii  [7:16]
Malcolm Proud (Metzler, Dietikon organ, built 1992)
rec. Stadtkirche Stein am Rhein, Switzerland, 13-15 February 2008.  DDD.
MAYA RECORDINGS MCD0803 [68:46] 

 

Experience Classicsonline


Scholars are far from certain why Bach composed the third book of the Clavier-übung; unlike, say, the cantatas, mostly written for Sundays and feast days in the Lutheran calendar in fulfilment of his duties as cantor, Clavier-übung III seems to have been composed purely as an act of devotion, a series of reflections on the movements of the Lutheran Mass and the catechism.  We cannot even be sure for what instrument the music was intended since, though most of the pieces are clearly intended for two manuals and pedals, the volume also includes several duets (BWV802-5), not included here, which seem more to be more naturally suited to the harpsichord. 

What Malcolm Proud offers on the current recording is about half of the whole, consisting of the opening Prelude and its related Fugue at the end of the collection, known in English-speaking countries as St Anne, together with the first three of Bach’s reflections on the German Kyrie (BWV669), then the second of the three reflections on the German Gloria (BWV676), the first of his two pieces based on the Ten Commandments (BWV678), the first of those on the Creed (BW680), the first of those on the Lord’s Prayer (BWV682), then the first of the baptismal reflections (BWV684), the first of the German version of the penitential psalm De profundis (Aus tieffer Noth, BWV686) and finally the first reflection on Christ’s salvation, Jesus Christus unser Heiland (BWV688). 

Thus we have representative pieces from the major sections of the book, the German Kyrie and Gloria (the only two sections of the Mass set to music in the Lutheran rite), the Commandments, the Creed, and the three essential sacraments enumerated in Luther’s Catechism, Baptism, the Eucharist and Penance. 

There would have been room for at least one other piece – BWV676 could have been preceded by the first version of Allein Gott in der Höh, BWV675, and followed by the Fughetta on it, BWV677, for example.  Otherwise, the selection works well except for those who want the complete work, for whom there are 2-CD versions on Nimbus (NI55612, Kevin Bowyer), BIS (BISCD1091-2, Masaaki Suzuki) and Haenssler (HAN092101, Kay Johanssen) and a budget-price 2-SACD version on Brilliant Classics (92769).  Johan van Veen was ‘not very happy’ with a complete recording on Guild, which no longer seems to be listed – see review

If you want the classic mono recordings of Helmut Walcha, which largely introduced me to Bach’s organ music, they are available on a super-budget 10-CD set from Documents (223489, splendid value at around £23 from some dealers).  Most of the Documents reissues which I’ve encountered are well transferred, but I can’t vouch for this set, advertised as the 1947-1952 recordings and, presumably, taken from mono LPs rather than master-tapes. 

If you wanted to supplement the new recording, where the Prelude and Fugue are separated, as Bach intended, with Walcha’s later version which runs them together, you could download the two tracks from passionato.com.  You could even buy the whole set of Bach Organ Works from passionato (463 7122); it also contains the complete run of BWV669-689, not just the items which Malcolm Proud includes.  I hope to include a review of the set in a future Download Roundup; I merely note here that passionato’s price of £79.99 is around double what the CDs sold for when they were available from DGG and to deplore their discontinuation in that format. 

The Prelude and Fugue, BWV552, are also available on a very well-filled single-CD Walcha programme (DGG Originals 457 7042, with Toccata and Fugue, BWV565, Sonata No.1, BWV525, Sei gegrüsset, BWV768 and 6 Chorale Preludes), also available as a download from passionato.com.  That’s a special offer at £4.99 at the time of writing, but still competitive when it reverts to £7.99, especially as only one of the online CD dealers which I checked still seems to stock it.  The mp3 download is at the highest bit-rate (320kbps) and the recordings, from the late 1950s and early 1960s, still sound very well indeed. 

Walcha takes both the Prelude, BWV552, and its associated Fugue a little faster – 9:25 as opposed to 9:50 and mere seconds apart at 7:14 against 7:16.  For me his approach is slightly preferable, but there isn’t much in it at all.  If I have to say that I derived more pleasure from re-encountering old friends on that Walcha recording than I did from the new Maya recording, I don’t mean to disparage Malcolm Proud’s playing.  Walcha’s Bach always seems to me instinctively just right; Proud’s achievement perhaps seems a little more studied, but there is very little to choose between them in the Prelude and Fugue. 

If I have one small reservation about the shorter pieces from BWV669-688, it is, perhaps, that Proud fails to give the quieter, more reflective movements quite as much time to breathe as Walcha; his tempi are mostly, though not always, very slightly faster than those on the older recording.  In BWV671, on the other hand, he takes a whole minute longer than Walcha; again, I marginally incline to the latter performance.  Perhaps, again, these things reflect the apparently instinctive nature of Walcha’s playing.  The very close Maya recording may be partly responsible, too; it benefits from being turned down a notch or three. 

The Metzler organ at Stein am Rhein, built in 1992, is a very fine and versatile instrument.  Its specification is included in the booklet as well as the registration chosen – and aptly chosen, I think – for each piece.  The organ which features in most of Walcha’s recordings, too, the historic instrument of Sankt Laurenskerk, Alkmaar, provides part of the appeal of his recordings. 

David Ledbetter’s notes in the booklet are detailed and informative, if a little too inclined to allegorical and symbolic explanations.  Short of including some music examples to show how Bach echoes the Lutheran settings of the words on which he is reflecting, effectively in the old-fashioned cantus firmus manner, I couldn’t ask for more. 

If the older DGG recordings wears its years very lightly – some tracks may even be in mono, but I could hardly tell which – the new recording is even better.  But remember to turn it down a few dB. 

For those who just require a single-CD selection from Clavier-übung III, then, this Maya recording could be just what they have been looking for.

Brian Wilson

 
 


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