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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Praeludium, Trio et Fuga in G BWV 541 and 528/3 [10'21]
Praeludium et Fuga BWV 533a [4'51]
Praeludium et Fuga in g BWV 535a [5'57]
Fantasia et Fuga in c BWV 562/1 and 546/2 [11'10]
Praeludium, Trio et Fuga in C BWV 545 and 529/2 [11'31]
Choralbearbeitung An Wasserfluessen Babylon a 5 parti con 2 tastiere e pedale doppio BWV 653b [5'26]
Fuga BWV 532a [4'36]
Praeludium, Trio et Fuga in B BWV 545b [11'59]
Gerhard Weinberger (organ)
rec. St Petri, Wandersleben, St Lukas Muehlberg, September 2004. DDD
CPO 777 153-2 [65'59]


This is the latest in Gerhard Weinberger's survey of the complete organ works of Bach, recorded on historic organs for CPO. This particular disc presents an interesting collection of so-called 'early versions and variants'. These vary from simple parings of particular pieces from different compositions as they survive in particular sources, transpositions (BWV 545a), and sometimes startlingly different versions of pieces we know, (especially BWV 533a, but also BWV 532a). Most interesting perhaps are the pieces which are well known in other versions. Dare I suggest that the small e minor Prelude at least is perhaps more interesting in this version from Johann Preller than in the version we all play?

Also of note on this disc are the instruments, if only because they remind us that the former Eastern Germany contains more historic riches than are commonly known. The two Thuringian instruments here are perhaps by lesser builders than Hildebrandt or Trost, but both are extraordinary, both visually and tonally. The Wandersleben instrument was built by one Johann Georg Schroeter in 1724, and that in Muehlberg by his student Franscisus Volckland in 1729, with a number of stops surviving from a rebuild by Ernst Hesse in 1823. Both are two manual instruments featuring, in typical Central German fashion, Hauptwerk and Oberwerk, a comparatively large number of 8' and 4' stops, and very few reeds. The Wandersleben organ was restored by the Waltershausen company in 1999, and the Muehlberg organ by the same firm in 1997. I must voice reservations about the winding of the latter organ. I am a great fan of flexible winding - it imparts an expressive quality on an organ which is essential for the successful performance of pre-19th century music. Whether the original winding system in Muehlberg is preserved or not, the notes don't tell us. But, especially in plenum registrations, the winding is so extremely unsteady as to constantly affect the pitch dramatically, causing sea-sickness to set in all too quickly. Perhaps the fault in Weinberger's - he does indeed use all three Hauptwerk 8's together in the plenum, but even this should hardly have such an extreme result. I cannot think of another historic organ in the world where the winding affects the sound so detrimentally, surely something is not right.

Both churches feature typically dry Thuringian acoustics, and despite Weinberger's musical and nimble playing, I find that he doesn't do enough with his articulation to overcome the acoustical challenge. In general his articulation tends toward bittiness at the expense of the shape of the motive, and, where appropriate, of the line. As with earlier releases from Weinberger, I feel that his playing lacks this last ounce of sophistication, the elusive link between acoustic, instrument and articulation as a means of expressing both the affekt in general and the motive, keeps him out of the premier league of Bach players: Zerer, Marcon, and my own favourite William Porter to name but three. I must also quibble with some registrations, the incomplete jeu de tierce in BWV 653b, and trio registrations such as 8'3' (Quint)/8'4' and 8'2'/8'4'2' are hardly what Kauffmann recommends. The one trio played with all 8's (BWV 529/2) is, not surprisingly far and away the most convincing.

The booklet is good, though in order to put Weinberger's essay on Straube (really!) into context, you will have needed to have bought the previous three volumes! If you have been collecting this series, hardly the worst Bach cycle at the moment, this will not disappoint. If the playing isn't quite my thing, I must qualify my criticism by saying again that Bach interpretation is a highly subjective field, and that Weinberger's playing on such beautiful and appropriate instruments will justifiably find admirers.

Chris Bragg


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