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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Organ Chorales from the Neumeister Collection: BWV 719, 1090-1100, 714, 742, 1101-1109, 737.
Hans Helmut Tillmanns (organ)
Rec. August 2005, the Weyland organ, Olpe, and the historic Wagner organ of Brandenburg Cathedral, Germany.

This is volume 12 of Hans Helmut Tillmanns’ Bach Organ Works set, and as such probably needs no extra recommendation to those already in possession of the other eleven discs.

The discovery of Johann Gottfried Neumeister’s copies of previously unknown works by Bach at Yale University in 1985 put paid to a few previously ‘complete’ Bach organ editions, and for a while such collections had to be appended with Werner Jacob’s serviceable EMI double LP recording from that same year. This new Danacord disc contains 24 of the 38 Neumeister chorales, with the remaining works covered elsewhere in the set.

I must admit to re-living my teenage years with this disc, bathing in utterly gorgeous organ sounds and beautiful playing. Tillmanns’ style is less urgent - some might say strident - than Peter Hurford, but is rhythmically sound and tastefully and transparently registered. His timings are actually quite similar to Werner Jacob’s, while Hurford regularly shaves great chunks from each piece by comparison, all the while seeming perfectly natural. The contrast in instruments makes a difference here of course, but it is only when you compare two such readings head to head that differences in interpretation become more glaringly apparent. Take BWV 1108, Als Jesus Christus in der Nacht. Hurford is swift, almost conspiratorial, the flowing notes babbling like an intimate, almost whispered conversation. Tillmanns is more four-square, the reed stops initially dominating, and developing quite a grand head of steam in that wonderful progression in the pedals towards the end of the second section. In the following number, BWV 1109, O Herre Gott, tu dich erbarmen Tillmanns wins with the weightier sound of the Weyland organ, leaving Hurford in his wake on the arguably more authentic instrument in the Viennese Augustinerkirche. It is of course swings and roundabouts. While Tillmanns’ phrasing can be a little heavy at times I have no real quibbles with either interpretation, but it just goes to show that, with Bach, there are so many wonderful ways to skin a cat.

There are absolutely no reservations about dividing this repertoire between two different instruments on one disc. The recordings are evenly matched and there are no problems with tuning or vast switches in acoustic. Hans Helmut Tillmanns is a reliable performer, but there are one or two unfortunate and very minor blemishes (a strange extra flicked note at the end of BWV 1097 for instance) which a final ounce of effort in the production would no doubt have solved. As other commentators have pointed out, someone really should get a native English speaker to brush up the booklet notes. This superbly recorded Bach set will however be hard to beat once completed. Top job.

Dominy Clements



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