> Bach On The Fritts! CAL CD009 [ChA]: Classical Reviews- January 2002 MusicWeb(UK)






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Johann Sebastian BACH

Bach On The Fritts!

Bach organ Works: Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C-Major BWV 564, Partita on ‘Sei gegrüsset, Jesu gütig’ BWV 768, Prelude and Fugue in A-Minor BWV 543, Prelude and Fugue in A-Major BWV 536, Chorale Prelude ‘Schmücke dich, o liebe Seele’ BWV 654, Chorale Prelude ‘Wenn wir in höchsten Nöten’ BWV 668a, Passacaglia in C-Minor BWV 582.
Jonathan Biggers, Organist
Arizona State University
Recorded: May 1994, Arizona State University, Temple, Arizona.
Organ by: Paul Fritts and Co., 1992.
CALCANTE RECORDINGS CAL CD009 [77.01]


Calcante Recordings

The aim of this CD seems to be the exploration of Bach’s fluent and inspired organ writing within various musical forms and the blending of these forms with the different colours of the organ.

It remains unclear whether the Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C-Minor (BWV564), which has a clearly Italian influence, is based on Italian concertos. As Bach scholar Peter Williams notices, it ‘remains a highly original example of organ form developed from elements current in and after 1700, with sections not only independent but each given a length, a form and a style not very like anything else’. The Partita on ‘Sei gegrüsset, Jesu gütig’ (BWV 768) is based on a chorale melody and it is Bach’s longest set of variations - eleven in total. The Prelude and Fugue in A-Minor (BWV 543), composed by young Bach, combines the characteristics of the North German ‘stylus phantasticus’ i.e. virtuosi manual and pedal parts with rhythmic and harmonic enrichment. The fugue is dynamic and dance-like. On the other hand, the Prelude and Fugue in A-Major (BWV 536) opens with a gentle prelude, which is followed by a rich contrapuntal fugue. The Chorale Prelude ‘Schmücke dich, o liebe Seele’ (BWV 654) reveals Bach’s ability to vocalize a chorale melody for the organ and the result is one of the most beautiful chorale preludes, whereas the Chorale Prelude ‘Wenn wir in höchsten Nöten’ (BWV 668a) founds its expression through its simplicity, which seems to derive from the choral text. As far as the Passacaglia in C-Minor (BWV 582), is concerned, it is Bach’s only example in the key; a monumental and advanced composition based onto a 8 measure theme with 20 variations on the melody and a fugue to accompany it.

The organ used is that of Arizona State University, Temple, built by Paul Fritts in 1992. The accompanying notes describe in detail the builder’s idea to make an organ, which is strongly influenced by historic practice. It is an organ ‘based on the Dutch-North German style of the 17th century, synthesized in the work of Arp Schnitger’. The high, rectangular shape of the room, together with the masonry walls and the case-work of the organ provide a very good acoustic; over four seconds of clear reverberation when empty.

Unfortunately, Jonathan Biggers seems neither to blend nicely the different colors of the organ with the needs of the pieces, nor takes care of the room’s acoustic. The organ quite often sounds blurred. Any effort to articulate disappears and the result is a feeling of unnatural breathing. In the Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C-Minor, the pedal line is destroyed by the chosen registration and the lower register sounds muddy, without articulation. Biggers could be more adventurous in the chosen registrations of the ‘Sei gegrüsset, Jesu gütig’. Here he misses the opportunity to make use of the manual reeds to separate the hands between the two manuals. As a result, the piece starts to sound dull after the first couple of variations. The piece lacks a sense of unity in relation to the chosen tempi of each variation. Too much rubato gives an inappropriate romantic feeling. Variation 1 misses its melismatic character and variations 3, 6, and 8 presents a blurred bass line. The Preludes and Fugues in A-Minor and A-Major sounds uninteresting with fast playing (Prelude in A-Minor), which cannot cope with the acoustics and presents a static feeling (Prelude in A-Major and Fugue in A-Minor without the dancing mood). The ornaments in the Chorales Preludes are not vocalized enough, but their performances are the most persuasive of the whole CD. The Passacaglia in C-Minor carries too much rubato, ornaments that are bot sufficiently crisp and an unstable tempo that starts slowly and ends up rather fast.

Christina Antoniadou


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