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Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Favourite Organ Works
see end of review for details
Werner Jacob (organ)
rec. 1970-83; see end of review for instrument listing. ADD.
EMI CLASSICS Triple 5093932 [3CDs: 69:50 + 69:44 + 75:45]
Experience Classicsonline


These three CDs offer a distillation of Werner Jacobs’ 16-disc Electrola set of Bach’s organ works, recorded in the 1970s on a variety of historic organs.
 
My initial reaction that this very competitively priced set would prove an ideal first purchase for anyone wishing to explore Bach’s organ music was strengthened by the fact that, as I was about to move from first impressions to a detailed review, a new full-price recording from Jacques van Oortmerssen (Challenge Classics CC72175) arrived in the next batch of review discs. As the EMI 3-CD set sells for less than the one CD from van Oortmerssen, one might expect any comparison of the one work in common, the Trio Sonata No.6, to be entirely in favour of the new recording. Not so. If anything, I derived more pleasure from Jacobs, both in that work and as a whole, than from van Oortmerssen.
 
As expected, the more traditional Jacobs is significantly slower than the younger van Oortmerssen. I played the Jacobs first and liked what I heard – no impression that this was a lumbering performance; in fact, the nimble-fingered and lightly-registered beginning of the opening Vivace made an excellent impression. The Lento central movement receives an affective, light-toned performance, leading seamlessly into a sprightly account of the final Allegro – not exactly helter-skelter but lively enough for my liking.
 
Jacobs performs on a variety of organs, in this case on the Silbermann organ at Arlesheim. The EMI notes are sparser than the Challenge Classics, which contain full details of the registration – hardly a cause for complaint with a budget-price recording – so I cannot be sure what registration was employed, but the overall impression is of a light touch, well captured by the 1970 ADD recording, with the organ well placed spatially in the middle distance, as it were.
 
The opening Vivace sounds slightly more pedestrian in Van Oortmerssen’s performance and the registration less bright – perhaps it’s the use of the 16’ pedal stop that makes the difference. Of course, different organs sound differently, but I do prefer Jacobs and/or the brighter sound of the Silbermann organ in this movement. Van Oortmerssen’s version of the Lento is just as affective as Jacobs’s – honours are about even here – and the slightly thicker registration did not worry me so much. The transition to the final Allegro is a shade less seamless than Jacobs’s, but van Oortmerssen’s performance of this Sonata is certainly one that I could live with – if I’d heard it first, I might even have preferred it; as it is, Jacobs’s older version just has the edge. Both recordings do justice to the instruments; the Challenge CD has the advantage of being limited to one location, whereas the EMI splices together recordings from a variety of locations with their differences of ambiance.
 
The Concerto after Vivaldi, BWV593, appears on an earlier van Oortmerssen recording, Volume 8 (CC72153). Here again comparisons favour Jacobs’s lighter and sprightlier performance, more in keeping with Vivaldi’s original (Op.3/8) on another Silbermann organ, this time in Strasbourg. I like the sound of these Silbermann instruments – not least because I was introduced to Bach’s organ music mostly by Helmut Walcha on a Silbermann instrument. Once again, too, the older ADD recording (from 1982 in this case) is not outclassed by Challenge’s new DDD sound.
 
Many prospective purchasers will be particularly interested in the performance which follows BWV593 on the second CD, the Toccata and Fugue in d minor, BWV565 – still the best-known of Bach’s organ works, though now believed by most scholars not to be by him. The opening strikes just the right note – grandeur without pomposity – and the Arlesheim Silbermann instrument seems just right in this respect, bright sounding but with plenty of support from the bass. There are, of course, many recommendable recordings which contain BWV565 – Peter Hurford’s Double Decca (443 485 2) would be an obvious choice, though even that 2-CD set is more expensive than the EMI Triple. Hurford’s 2-CD recording on Classics for Pleasure also contains BWV565 at a price commensurate with the Jacobs; that recording seems recently to have been deleted but some dealers may still have it (5 85630 2).
 
The transition from the Concerto to the Toccata and Fugue and then to the Trio Sonata which I have already discussed illustrates the variety on offer here. I might have preferred not to have the five (of six) Trio Sonatas scattered across the three CDs but I can understand the logic behind the planning, especially as the Arlesheim organ is used for both BWV565 and the following BWV530, thus maintaining the ambiance of the building.
 
From the early Partite Diverse, BWV768, at the opening of the first CD to the late ‘Schübler’ Chorales which end the third, Jacobs traverses a very wide range of Bachian styles. Clearly, with such a large programme I cannot focus on every work in detail, but suffice it to say that there is not one dud performance among them. If Jacobs rather than Walcha had been my original guide to this repertoire I do not think that I could have gone amiss – and the EMI recordings are far superior to the DGG mono sound on those Walcha LPs.
 
One more comparison with a recent review: that of Trio Sonata No.3, BWV527, which ends the first CD, with the performance on a D E Versluis recording entitled Inventio, where Eric Quist performs this Sonata in a programme of works by Buxtehude and his contemporaries and successors (DEV-EQ 1016 – see review). I liked the Quist recital as a whole and the Trio Sonata in particular but I should be hard pressed to choose between his performance and that of Jacobs – if anything, I prefer Jacobs’s marginally faster timing.
 
Whilst I thought the Versluis recording ideal, as with the other works here I have no complaints about the EMI sound throughout the three CDs. The cover, like all these EMI Triples, is somewhat off-putting and the notes brief though informative but, all in all, this is very good value.
 
Unless you must have all six Trio Sonatas (five only here, all well performed) in which case you will need to turn to Christopher Herrick (Hyperion CDA66390 or in the boxed set on CDS44121-36 – see TB’s review) or all the Vivaldi-based Concertos, these CDs offer an attractive proposition, not just to the beginner – even seasoned collectors may not have all the music contained here. What does the odd duplication matter anyway in such wonderful music? (Bach is the one exception to my self-imposed rule of not having two recordings of the same work.) In any case, the scholarly-minded will welcome the opportunity of hearing all three pieces based on the Advent Chorale Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland, BWV659-61, played in succession here.
 
Brian Wilson

Track details
CD1
Partite diverse (Chorale Partita) BWV768 Sei gegrüßet, Jesu gütig (? c,1700)[16:39]
Trio Sonata No. 4 in e minor, BWV528 (c.17127) [9:57]
Toccata, Adagio & Fugue in C major, BWV564 (1708-17) [14:01]
Prelude & Fugue in b minor, BWV544 91727-31) [10:41]
Trio Sonata No. 3 in d minor, BWV527 (c.1727) [16:11]
CD2
Organ Concerto in a minor (after Vivaldi), BWV593 (? 1713-14) [11:29]
Toccata & Fugue in d minor, BWV565 (? before 1708) [9:25]
Trio Sonata No. 6 in G major, BWV530 (c.1727) [15:58]
Fantasia in G major, BWV572 (before 1708) [8:50]
Toccata & Fugue in d minor, BWV538 ‘Dorian’ (1708-17) [12:54]
Prelude & Fugue in D major, BWV532 (? 1708-17) [10:41]
CD3
Trio Sonata No. 5 in C major, BWV529 (c.1727) [14:32]
Chorale Prelude BWV659 Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland; Trio super Nun komm der Heiden Heiland, BWV660; Chorale Prelude BWV661 Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland (1708-17, revised c.1739-41 and later) [10:23]
Trio Sonata No. 1 in E flat major, BWV525 (c.1727) [15:54]
Passacaglia & Fugue in C minor, BWV582 (date ?) [14:40]
Chorale Preludes II, BWV645-650 (‘Schübler Chorales’) (1747 or 1748) [19:56]

Recording details
Arp Schnitger Organ, Steinkirchen, 15-19 August 1983; Stellwagen Organ, Marienkirche, Stralsund, 1-5 September 1975; Silbermann Organ, Ponitz, 23-27 August 1979; Silbermann Organ, Kirche St Thomas, Strasbourg, 30 August-4 September 1982; Silbermann Organ, Arlesheim, 26-28 October 1970; Silbermann Organ, Abteikirche, Ebersmünster, 21-22 October 1970; Schnitger Organ, St Michelskerk, Zwolle, 2-3 August, 1973; Müller Organ, St Bavo Kerk, Haarlem, 22-25 October 1973; Moreau Organ, Gouda, 3-7 June 1974; Wagner Organ, Brandenburg Cathedral, 24-29 August 1977; Hildebrandt Organ, Wenzelskirche, Naumburg, 23-27 August 1976.

 


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