The organ music of Johann Sebastian Bach stands as
a singular monument both in the history of music for this instrument
and in the career of Helmut Walcha. This excellent organist recorded
all of Bach’s organ music (much of it several times), as well as most
of his keyboard music on harpsichord.
Walcha lost his sight at an early age, and played music
only through memory, helped by his mother and, later, his wife, who
played the music on piano, one voice at a time. He later put the voices
together, and developed a deeply unique appreciation of the texture
Walcha did not record very much music by other composers.
This disc, his last recording before his retirement at the age of 70,
is an overview of the music that stands as a foundation for Bach’s great
organ music. No one can deny the importance of Buxtehude in Bach’s career
- Bach walked a long distance to meet his elder, and stayed with him
for three months, absorbing much of his technique. Three works on this
disc are by Buxtehude - a prelude and fugue, which fits the standard
form for such works at that time, and two variation sets, the Chaconne
in C minor and the Passacaglia in D minor. Buxtehude wrote many such
works, both for organ and for harpsichord, where a basic melody is presented,
then embellished, developed and extrapolated. Listening to these works,
one cannot fail to appreciate how Bach must have felt listening to this
combination of melodic beauty and contrapuntal complexity. Walcha gives
works like this a rare balance, where the sum of the individual voices
is much greater than the parts.
Other composers represented on this disc, which covers
the period from the 16th to the 18th centuries, include such well known
names as Johann Pachelbel and Georg Böhm, as well as lesser known
composers such as Nicolaus Bruhns, Samuel Scheidt and Vincent Lübeck.
The wide variety of music presented gives the listener a very good idea
of what Bach heard and studied - music which had a great influence on
his own compositions.
This budget disc is certainly a real bargain, combining
Helmut Walcha’s masterful interpretations with a satisfyingly varied
selection of music. Whether interested in discovering Bach’s influences,
or simply curious to hear a fine selection of baroque organ music, this
is a must-have recording.