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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Concerto in a after Vivaldi BWV 593 [12’02]
Trio Sonata no 4 in e BWV 528
Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C BWV 564 [15’01]
The Schűbler Chorales: Wachet Auf, ruft uns die stimme BWV 645 [4’23]; Wo soll ich fliehen hin, BWV 646 [1’45]; Wer nur den lieven Gott lässt walten BWV 647 [3’21]; Meine Seele erhebt den Herrn BWV 648 [2’05]; Ach bleib’ bei uns, Herr Jesu Christ BWV 649 [2’39]; Kommst du nun, Jesu vom Himmel herunter BWV 650 [3’33];Toccata and Fugue in F BWV 540 [14’45]
Passacaglia in c BWV 582 [13’17]
Trio Sonata No 3 in d BWV 527 [12’56]
Pastorella in F BWV 590 [10’59]
Five Chorales from the “Great Eighteen”: Komm, Heiliger Geist, Herre Gott BWV 652 [9’25]; Herr Jesu Christ, dich zu uns wend, BWV BWV 655 [4’11]; O Lamm Gottes unschuldig BWV 656 [8’20]; Nun danket alle Gott BWV 657 [4’55]; Komm, Gott Schöpfer, Heiliger Geist BWV 667 [2’10]; Pièce d’Orgue BWV 572 [9’06]
Robert Clark, organ
rec: First Presbyterian Church, Springfield, Illinois, 10-14 October 2004. DDD
ARSIS SACD 405 [70’46 + 75’19]



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The first thing to say about this Arsis SACD release is how well it is presented. If ever a record label wants a model to set a standard for their booklet, they could do a lot worse than look here. Excellent programme notes, lots of good colour photography of the organ, (also inside!), the church’s stained glass windows by Louis Comfort Tiffany no less, the church’s exterior and so on. It also contains interesting information about the organ, and full registration details. Well done Arsis.

Secondly, what a fascinating instrument. I have discussed here before the unique contribution made to 20th century organ building by John Brombaugh. Like Jurgen Ahrend in Europe, Brombaugh was, even by the early 1970s, at the forefront of the second stage of organ reform, building organs drawing heavily on carefully studied historical models, mostly in the Netherlands and Northern Germany. The development of his own style has created a North American school of historically inspired and informed organ building hardly matched in Europe. Apart from Brombaugh its leading lights include Paul Fritts, Taylor and Boody, and Richards and Fowkes. What is especially fascinating about this school is that, to different extents, it is now building organs which could be described as eclectic, though very different from the rather standardised instruments now being produced by Rieger, Klais etc. Perhaps the instrument which has received most coverage is the Fritts organ at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington State, with its obviously Stellwagen-inspired case, and Hanseatic North German tonal basis, but with a Swell box and reeds copied after Cavaillé-Coll. However, it’s probably true to say that the first figure to move the ‘new’ American school into eclectic organ building, was John Brombaugh. Already twenty years ago he built a four manual, seventy stop instrument in the Southern Missionary College in Collegedale, Tennessee, including a large ‘Recit Expressive’ with an unda maris! It is interesting to speculate how much the organ on the current discs represents a distillation of the Collegedale concept, and how much it represents a development of the style. The Springfield organ, completed in 2004 has 49 stops onthree3 manuals, and even features electric stop action and a combination system! In trying to quantify the concept, the role of the Swell here is, for me, harder to grasp than at Collegedale. It features a celeste, but only a sharp mixture, as well as a copy of the Haarlem Bovenwerk Vox Humana, but also an extraordinary 16’ reed; a Dulcian until f’, thereafter a copy of an 1870 Hook oboe! Also the case is interesting; the Rűckpositive seems to point to around 1650ish, while the main case seems to point more to the first 20 or 30 years of the 19th century.

Predictably the organ sounds marvellous in Bach. The choruses are voiced so well in the dryish acoustic, the reeds are very very fine, including an uncanny copy of the Alkmaar Hobo, the winding is musically flexible, the flutes are wonderfully charming. Listen for the Schnitergerian Querflöte, curiously reticent in the Swell box! This, although I don’t fully understand it, is a masterpiece of 21st century organ building.

It’s a shame that the whole package is let down by the playing of Robert Clark. Clark has contributed immensely to American organ education in the last forty years. He commissioned an important Fritts organ at the University of Arizona and even edited a critically acclaimed edition of the Orgelbűchlein. In short, this is an American organ organist who really “gets it” and his intentions in terms of tempi, affekt, articulation etc, are spot-on. Unfortunately his playing has become laboured; co-ordination problems cause unsteadiness, frequent note and rhythmic inaccuracies and often untidy ornaments. I have the feeling that the whole recording is heavily edited and some edits are indeed rather badly handled. See disc 2: Track 2 @ 0’43, Track 5 @ 9’30 and Track 11 @ 1’30.

Recommended for the instrument.

Chris Bragg






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