Johann Sebastian BACH
Organ Transcriptions
Introduction & Fugue from the Cantata Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis (transcr. Liszt) [5:32]
Chorale Wir setzen uns mit Tränen nieder from St Marc Passion BWV 244 (transcr. Robert Schaab) [6:02]
Concerto in D minor BWV 596 after Antonio Vivaldi (transcr. JS Bach) [10:48]
Symphoniae pastorale from Christmas Oratorio BWV 248 (transcr. Karg-Elert) [6:50]
Miserere mei from Bach’s Memento (transcr. Widor) [4:22]
Prelude & Fugue in B flat minor BWV 867 from The Well-Tempered Clavier I (transcr. Reger) [7:05]
Wachet auf ruft uns die Stimme BWV 645 (transcr. JS Bach) [4:21]
Sinfonia from Cantata Wir danken dir, Gott BWV 29 (transcr. Dupré) [4:05]
Trio Sonata in C major after BWV 1031 (transcr. Schmeding) [11:00]
Chaconne in D minor from Partita II BWV 1004 (transcr. Arno Landmann) [14:30]
Martin Schmeding (organ)
rec. 20-22 September 2011, Stadkirche Karlsruhe-Durlach
ARS PRODUKTION ARS 38109 [75:19]
Martin Schmeding has made numerous recordings for the ARS label, but I’ve come across his name via Cybèle, with excellent recordings including those of Bach and Medek. So, I’m already a declared fan, and this superb recording of Bach organ transcriptions is one I’ve hardly put down for weeks.
For a start, the ARS recording is very good indeed. It’s warm but filled with clarity, and deep without becoming an overwhelming woofer workout. The Stadkirche Karlsruhe-Durlach acoustic is well-nigh perfect, being resonant in proportion with the marvellous 1999 Stumm/Goll organ, whose sound suits these adapted Bach works without imposing too many idiosyncratic foibles or period-false notes of timbre or tuning.
Do you have doubts about liking Bach, or Bach on the organ? This may be the ideal place to start your exploration. The impression which may linger in some quarters that Bach was more a mathematical counterpoint machine than a red-blooded romantic is blown away by the selection of works here, which to a certain extent represents the importance with which Bach was seen by numerous composers of the Romantic era and beyond. The transcriptions are largely faithful to the essence of Bach’s original works, and there will be few if any shocks for those familiar with the works in this programme. What we have is a kind of transitional absorber between contemporary aspirations for authentic performance, and the kind of music composers of the 19th and earlier 20th century felt the need to preserve and express in their own time.
Bach’s own transcription of Vivaldi is familiar enough in the Concerto BWV 596, given a cracking but uncontroversial performance on this recording. The expressive Largo e spiccato is especially gorgeous here, and the lightness of touch in the playing is something which brings out the basic transparency in most of these transcriptions. The other multi-movement piece is also the most recent transcription of the Trio Sonata BWV 1031 made by Martin Schmeding. This is better known to us flute players as one of the sonatas, and hearing the beautiful Siciliano with one pipe per note is a different experience but by no means an unpleasant one.
Heavyweight names such as Liszt, Karg-Elert and Reger seem to promise a rich diet of spectacular organ sounds, but this is by no means the case here. These pieces remain transcriptions rather than arrangements, and Bach is very much to the fore in each case. Hearing the closing chorale from the St Matthew Passion in Robert Schaab’s organ version is another mildly disorientating transplant, but Bach’s genius can stand all kinds of treatment, and while the repetitions lose a little of their content through the lack of a text this remains a moving musical statement which works very well indeed on organ. The restraint of pieces such as Reger’s transcription of the Prelude and Fugue in B minor BWV 867 contrasts well with the lively Sinfonia from Cantata BWV 29 selected by Marcel Dupré. The grand finale is the almost inevitable Chaconne from the violin solo Partita BWV 1004, the gothic overtones of which are emphasised through organ transcription. There have been numerous versions made of this great work, and Arno Landmann may not be the most familiar name amongst greats such as Mendelssohn and Busoni who are associated with the Chaconne, but he was an organist of note in Mannheim, and described as “an unsurpassable organ virtuoso” by his teacher Karl Straube. Landmann’s Chaconne is a colourful transcription and highly effective, though the superhuman feel one has from a good violin performance is always levelled out somewhat by having the piece played on an instrument with such an arsenal of effects at its disposal. Other than the bridge-busting section at 11:15 which brings about a momentary whirlwind of virtuosity, there is little hint of technical boundary-breaking in the actual performance. Where this version wins for instance is in the quasi pastorale effect the central major-key section has from about 7:30, one of several moments of repose which heighten the surrounding turmoil and harmonic drama.
If you look up ‘Bach Organ Transcriptions’ you are likely to find Bach’s own work in this field, and all-Bach commercial releases of transcriptions by other composers seem to be deeply unfashionable, which on this showing is an unfair perception of what such a project can produce. This is an all-round organ ‘hit’ release in my book, combining a well-chosen selection of the sublime music of Bach in a stunning recording and superlative performances. What more can one ask? Volume II perhaps?
Dominy Clements
Superb release in every regard. An all-round organ hit release.