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Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Ton Koopman plays Bach Organ Works, Harpsichord Pieces and Arias. (DVD)
Great Organ Works

Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, BWV 645 [3.32]
Nun Komm, der Heiden Heiland, BWV 659 [4.29]
Fugue in G minor BWV 578 [3.14]
Schmücke dich, o liebe Seele, BWV 654 [7.20]
Toccata in D minor, BWV 565 [2.19]
Ton Koopman, organ
Performed on the greater Silbermann organ (built in 1714-18) at St. Marien Cathedral, Freiberg, Saxony, 16 June 2000
At home with Bach

‘Dir, dir, Jehova, will ich singen,’ BWV 452 [1.26]
Toccata in G major, BWV 916 [2.30]
‘Willst du dein Herz mir schenken,’ BWV 518 [1.17]
‘Vater unser im Himmelreich,’ BWV 683 [1.32]
‘So oft ich meine Tobackspfeife,’ BWV 515a [2.23]
Amore traditore, BWV 203 [ 12.18]
‘Wer nur ben lieben Gott lässt walten’, BWV 691 [2.20]
‘Ich habe genug,’ BWV 82 ( extracts) [8.14]
Toccata in G major, BWV 916 [3.14]
‘Schaff’s mit mir, Gott,’ BWV 514 [1.43]
‘Bist du bei mir,’ BWV 508 [3.03]
Minuet in G major BWV Anh. II 116 [1.31]
‘Brunnquell aller Güter,’ BWV 445 [ 2.01]
‘Ihr Gestirn, ihr hohen Lüfte,’ BWV 476 [1.40]
Toccata in G major, BWV 916 [3.29]
‘Jesus, unser Trost und Leben,’ BWV 475 [1.40]
Minuet in G major (attributed to Christian Petzold) BWV ANH II 114 [1.19]
‘Ich freue mich in dir,’ BWV 465 [1.26]
‘Komm, süßer Tod,’ BWV 478 [3.29]
Klaus Mertens, baritone and Ton Koopman, harpsichord and organ
Recorded at the Gohliser Schlösschen, Leipzig, 6-8 January 2000
EUROARTS 2050349 DVD [80:00]

 

This DVD is conveniently divided into two excellent sections. In fact it is really like having two separate concert programmes. The first is devoted to five organ works played on the stunning Silbermann organ in St Mary’s Cathedral in Freiberg. The second is an intimate visit to what could have been JSB’s sitting room. Here we are presented with a series of twenty miniature works that could have been performed before a company of personal friends or relations. Both of these scenarios build up to an experience of the master’s music which is unique and revealing. There cannot be too many DVDs which show a twenty five minute organ recital. And certainly it is a privilege to be in Bach’s drawing room with a glass of wine, the candles lit and enjoying extracts from the Anna Magdalena Notebook.

I play the organ – not brilliantly, I hasten to add – but well enough to be able to appreciate a great organist’s style and technique. There is nothing I like better than sitting in the organ loft and watching an artist at work. Especially exhilarating is watching them deal with a complex pedal passage. We are let into the secret world of the organ console on this DVD and it is makes one feel utterly inadequate about one’s own technique. There is not much in the way of views of the church; most of the action is on the keyboard which is probably correct.

The ‘at home’ part of the programme allows us to hear a wide variety of ‘chamber’ music. Klaus Mertens provides us with a very sober, but equally compelling account of songs and arias from the cantatas, ‘notebook’ and songbooks.

There is no need to discuss the music in detail on this DVD. Everything is a highlight and adds to our feeling that Sebastian is probably the greatest composer in the world! However a few general points are in order. Out of the 25 works, over half of them could be described as ‘popular’ the rest belong to the further reaches of Sebastian’s catalogue. Of course it is always a great mistake to assume that the ‘hidden’ repertoire is somehow less accomplished than that which makes it to the Bach Top Ten. In fact, this DVD proves that even the slightest pieces have an interest that far outweighs their individual duration.

One of the delights is to hear seven or eight extracts from the Anna Magdalena Notebook. Many people who have studied the piano will have played a number of minuets and polonaises from this charming gift to the composer’s wife. However, as a complete work it is little recorded. I believe that there are only one or two recordings of the complete volume. This is regrettable as each and every one of these miniatures helps us to understand Bach’s published keyboard works. Furthermore, they give us an attractive insight into the composer as a family man and his concern to educate his children in the art of composition and instrumental technique.

Of particular interest are a number of works from the Schemelli Songbook. This was a volume containing some 950 sacred lieder that was published in Leipzig in 1736. As I understand it, there is still considerable debate as to what input Sebastian had to the material in this book. However, all the songs presented here are lovely and could easily be by the master. And, moreover, the volume was designed for use in the home – so it fits in well here.

I was particularly entranced to hear the lovely Minuet in G major from the Notebook. It was one of the earliest pieces I leant to play. And what is more it is not by Sebastian but a gentleman called Christian Petzold – bless him!

This is a lovely DVD and one that gives an excellent introduction to two key areas of the master’s work. It will be treasured by all lovers of Bach, especially those to whom the intimacy of this music is more appealing than some of the more impressive and grand baroque masterpieces.

John France


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