Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750) Organ Works
Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, BWV 645 [3:49]
Passacaglia in C minor, BWV 582 [13:19]
Erbarm dich mein, o Herre Gott, BWV 721 [4:36]
Pièce d'Orgue, BWV 572 [9:02]
O Mensch, bewein dein Sünde groß, BWV 622 [5:15]
Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C major, BWV 564 [17:41]
Dies sind die heil'gen zehn Gebot', BWV 678 [5:41]
Prelude and Fugue in E flat major, BWV 552 [15:19]
David Hamilton (organ)
rec. The Canongate Kirk, Edinburgh, February 2010. Stereo. DDD
DIVINE ART DDA25088 [75:39]
David Hamilton is clearly a fine organist, but there's no doubt
that the instrument is the real star of this disc. It was built
by Th. Frobenius of Copenhagen in 1998 and is in tip-top condition.
Like the kirk itself, the organ isn't big, just two manuals
and a registration that fits comfortably on half a page of the
liner notes, but this is definitely a case of small is beautiful.
It is much more common to meet discs of popular Bach selections
played on huge cathedral organs, but what this organ lacks in
power it makes up for in the precision of the sound and the
subtle combinations of the tone colours. Hamilton avoids the
temptation to concentrate solely on the small-scale works and
includes two of the behemoths: the Passacaglia in C minor BWV582
and the Prelude and Fugue in E flat major BWV 552. The Passacaglia
in particular sounds great at this chamber music scale, and
all sorts of contrapuntal devices and inner lines become apparent
that larger organs usually obscure.
Clarity and evenness of tone are the main virtues of this instrument,
and of Hamilton's registration choices - just because there
are less stops to pull, that doesn't make the decisions any
easier. In the Adagio second movement of the Toccata in C minor
BWV564 the voicing of the individual notes of the melody is
immaculate. The opening movement also benefits from the clean,
well defined sound, and the grace notes in the main theme are
actually heard as pitches, another detail that is often lost
on larger organs. There isn't much in the way of mutation or
colouristic devices in the registration. The only piece to use
a more constrained, nasal stop is O Mensch BWV678, and
even that has a relatively open tone.
Hamilton is quite conservative in his use of ornaments and his
rubato is either non-existent or so subtle as to be imperceptible.
The result is a series of very clean interpretations, an approach
ideally matched to the tone and scale of the instrument.
The sound quality is good, and it seems that the organ and the
acoustic are ideally matched. There is very little resonance
- for a church I mean - but enough to give the organ sound a
satisfying warmth. The bass in the recording is excellent, clear
and focused and not artificially amplified, or at least not
obviously so. The bottom end of the organ is actually quite
meagre, the pedals have two 8' stops and two 16', but that's
plenty, even for the Passacaglia.
An enjoyable disc then, and not your usual Bach greatest hits.
This may be the absolute core of the organ repertoire, but it
does have a tendency to bring out the worst excesses of megalomania
in professional organists. David Hamilton demonstrates how a
little humility can go a long way. Gavin Dixon
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