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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
The Thrill of the Chase
Toccata and Fugue in D minor S.565 [9:43]; Prelude and Fugue in D major S.532 [12:27]; Passacaglia in C minor S.582 [15:21]; Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C major S.564 [15:13]; Fantasia and Fugue in G minor S.542 [12:36]
Florence Mustric (organ)
rec. Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Cleveland, Ohio, 21 January-26 February 2007
MSR CLASSICS MS1271 [65:23]

Experience Classicsonline

As the booklet gives not only the specification of the organ, but explains what that means for the benefit of non-organists, I will start with the instrument rather than the music, the player or the performance. The organ is said to be the first large mechanical-action instrument constructed in
North America in modern times. It is wholly mechanical, apart from the wind motor, intended to follow the northern European tradition, and was constructed by the Hamburg builder Rudolph von Beckerath in 1956. As recorded here, despite a somewhat dry acoustic it has a beauty of tone, clarity and power that are very impressive, even to non-organ-fanciers. The performer refers to its need for restoration but she manages to disguise this well here. 

Nonetheless for most potential purchasers it is the music and the performer that will be of greater importance. Apart from the inevitable S.565 we have here four of Bach’s greatest organ works – the title “The Thrill of the Chase” refers to the fugues with which each work on the disc ends. The booklet tells little about the performer other than her academic achievements and that in 1994 she instituted a weekly series of performances on this organ. Much more revealing is her own note about her choice of registration in which she states that her choices are based on “sparing use of full volume, Baroque terrace dynamics, and the influence of Helmut Walcha”. It is the last of these that will ring bells with those brought up on Walcha’s amazing recordings from the 1950s and 1960s. Here we have a similar unflinching rigour of conception of each piece, similar clarity and, very occasionally, similar risk of dullness in the avoidance of unnecessary showy effects. Unsurprisingly it is the Passacaglia and the various fugues that are the best parts of the disc. The former in particular is a superb performance with a terrific cumulative energy. I have played this item many times with increasing pleasure. Similar comments could be made about most of the other items, especially the Fantasia and Fugue. The only (slight) disappointment was the Toccata and Fugue in D minor. Ms Mustric’s notes rightly refer to it as “a stunning display of virtuoso and rhetorical devices”, and her performance certainly lacks nothing in virtuosity. The Toccata does however seem a little lacking in showmanship and rhetoric. It is a pity that this is the first item on the disc as it may put some listeners off hearing the rest. As a whole this is a very satisfying collection, ideal for anyone wanting to explore for the first time Bach’s larger organ works, and also a good introduction to a player and organ who deserve to be familiar to a wider audience.

John Sheppard



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