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Tall Poppies

J. S. BACH (1685-1750)
Christmas Organ Music

Piece d’orgue BWV 572 [8’11] Vom Himmel hoch da komm ich her BWV 700 [3’05] Vom Himmel hoch da komm ich her BWV 738 [1’19] Vom Himmel hoch da komm ich her BWV 701 [1’28] Vom Himmel hoch da komm ich her BWV 606 [0’50] Vom Himmel hoch da komm ich her (Canonic Variations) BWV 769 [12’40] In dulci jubilo BWV 608 [1’23] In dulci jubilo BWV 729 [2’16] Christum wir sollen loben schon BWV 696 [1’15] Christum wir sollen loben schon BWV 611 [2’24] Pastorella BWV 590 [12’25] Puer Natus in Bethlehem BWV 603 [1’41] Vom Himmel kam der Engel Schar BWV 607 [1’13] Wir Christenleut BWV 710 [2’05] Wir Christenleut BWV 612 [1’12] Gelobet Seist du, Jesu Christ BWV 697 [0’55] Gelobet Seist du Jesu Christ BWV 604 [1’29] Gelobet Seist du Jesu Christ BWV 722 [1’19] Der Tag, der ist so Freudenreich BWV 605 [1’45] Jesu, meine Freude BWV 610 [2’25] Jesu, meine Freude BWV 713 [4’34] Lobt Gott, ihr Christen, allzugleich BWV 609 [0’52] Lobt Gott, ihr Christen allzugleich BWV 739 [4’19]
John O’Donnell (organ)
Rec. Robert Blackwood Hall, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia, 30 Sept-1 Oct 2003; 28 June 1996. DDD
TALL POPPIES TP166 [73’44]

I had often wondered why I had never seen or heard a recording of Jurgen Ahrend’s 1980 organ, (at 4/45 one of his largest) at Monash University in Melbourne. Given that he has built so many iconic instruments in the last forty years – indeed many would nominate him as the most important organ builder of the 20th century - such a large instrument receives astonishingly little coverage, even if most of us aren’t in Melbourne very often. My antipodean friends always mentioned the poor acoustic, and that is certainly evident on this recording. However the quality of the instrument is such that one doesn’t notice it beyond the first few minutes of listening. All the Ahrend hallmarks are present; fabulous blend in the plenum, beguiling flutes, prompt purring reeds, singing principals…..

This CD is a well put-together collection of all Bach’s Christmas chorale preludes, excluding some doubtful pieces from the Neumeister collection, together with the Pastorella, and the Piece d’orgue. The latter’s inclusion as a Christmas piece is rather doubtful; in his well-written programme note John O’Donnell cites its quoting of material from Ehre Sei Gott from the Weinachtsoratorium  as his justification.

O’Donnell is the Australian-born but British-educated University organist at Monash clearly knows how to make ‘his’ Ahrend sound at its best. His no-nonsense approach, coupled with his thoughtful registrations – all of which detailed in the booklet- and well judged tempi and articulation serve the music very well indeed. I had some minor quibbles, why for example is the third part of Piece d’orgue so fast? And why are there so many plenum pieces programmed together at the beginning of the programme? In addition I sometimes wished for a little more flexibility in the playing as a means to express a particular affect, but this is a subjective criticism of an excellent recording.

A greater pity is the garish booklet cover, so at odds with the beautiful music-making on the disc and regrettably at the expense of a photograph of the organ.


Chris Bragg


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