Johann Sebastian BACH (1685 - 1750)
Prelude and fugue in b minor (BWV 544) [11:54]
Prelude and fugue in E flat (BWV 552) [14:51]
Passacaglia in c minor (BWV 582) [14:59]
Prelude and fugue in c minor (BWV 546)* [12:52]
Prelude and fugue in C (BWV 547)* [09:32]
Fantasia and fugue in g minor (BWV 542)** [12:32]
Prelude and fugue in G (BWV 541)** [07:09]
O Mensch, bewein dein Sünde groß (BWV 622)**
Vor deinen Thron tret' ich hiermit (BWV 668/668a)** [03:58]
Toccata, adagio and fugue in C (BWV 564)** [15:34]
Prelude and fugue in a minor (BWV 543)* [11:45]
Prelude and fugue in e minor (BWV 548)* [16:52]
Hubert Meister (organ)
rec. 1981, Schutzengelkirche, Eichstatt, Germany; 1983, Pfarrkirche
St Hilarius, Näfels, Switzerland*; 1985, Stadtpfarrkirche St Peter und
Paul, Ried im Innkreis, Austria**
MUSIKPRODUKTION DABRINGHAUS UND GRIMM MDG 606 1708-2 [64:21 + 72:59]
Hubert Meister was a German organist who was born in 1938 and
died in 2010. He studied theology, philosophy and music, worked
as a musicologist for the G. Henle-Verlag, was professor for
musicology and music theory and was also active as a performer.
On the occasion of his death three recordings, were originally
released on vinyl, were reissued on CD. One of his main interests
was the role of rhetoric in the music of Johann Sebastian Bach.
"As Hubert Meister acknowledged in one of his articles on musical
rhetoric, it was very important for him 'to loosen the tongue'
of Bach's music and 'to make it speak'. He received profound
training as a theologian and musicologist and much preferred
to have Bach's rhetoric make its impact from the organ than
in theoretical writings", according to Alfred Solder in a programme
booklet of the Austrian channel ORF in 1996.
Considering Meister's concern about the true character of Bach's
organ works it is surprising that he made these three recordings
on new instruments, which were built by the Swiss manufacturer
Mathis Orgelbau. These are 'classical' instruments, though,
and two of them are in unequal temperament which - as Meister
underlines in his liner-notes - is essential in bringing out
the different characteristics of the various keys which in Bach's
time were closely connected to a specific Affekt.
The earliest recordings, from 1980, are the least convincing.
They were also made using an instrument of which the temperament
is not mentioned, and is probably in equal temperament. In these
works the articulation is mostly not clear enough, and there
are too many passages which are played legato. Meister
sees the Prelude in E flat (BWV 552) as written in the
style of the French overture, and that is reflected by his registration.
Notable is the difference in pace between the three sections
of the fugue which follows it: the first is in an average tempo,
the second slow and the third very fast. The playing of the
third fugue's subject is a bit awkward.
In his liner-notes one recognizes his theological schooling
as he pays much attention to the fact that many free organ works
are connected to aspects of Christian - and in particular Lutheran
- doctrine. That is, for instance, the case with the Passacaglia
in c minor (BWV 582). The subject of the fugue is based
on the Christe eleison from the Messe du 12e ton
by the French composer André Raison. This is the basis
of Meister's explanation of the various rhetorical figures of
which Bach makes use. I'm not that impressed with the performance.
The tempo is rather slow, and because of the frequent changes
in registration it doesn't come off as a unity.
The recordings from 1983 show that Meister had developed his
interpretation. The articulation is better and the performances
are more speechlike. I have no doubt that part of the greater
impact of the pieces played at the organ in Näfels had
to do with the unequal temperament and also the 'natural' wind-raising,
meaning: by manpower. Meister plays Prelude and fugue in
c minor (BWV 546); he sees a similarity between the prelude
and the opening chorus of Cantata 47, Wer sich selbst erhöhet,
der soll erniedriget werden. In the figures in the prelude
he recognizes a depicting of the haughtiness which the cantata
refers to. It is one of Bach's most dramatic organ works, and
that is well exposed in Meister's performance. Even more dramatic
is the Prelude and fugue in e minor (BWV 548) which Meister
interprets as a musical expression of God descending to a world
which is in distress and needs redemption. The performance is
one of the best in this set.
One of Bach's most famous organ works is the Toccata, adagio
and fugue in C (BWV 564). The toccata includes a long passage
for pedal solo which unfortunately is seriously underexposed,
probably largely due to the recording. The adagio is very well
played, but the fugue is too slow and the theme is again a bit
awkward. The Prelude and fugue in C (BWV 547) can, according
to Meister, be connected to Sunday Epiphany, also because of
the similarity with the opening chorus of Bach's cantata for
this Sunday, Sie werden aus Saba alle kommen (BWV 65).
It is played well, but the opening of the prelude would have
been more speechlike if there had been more differentiation
between the notes of every triplet. It may surprise that Meister
plays only two pieces based on a chorale. As I indicated above,
he sees a theological meaning in most of the 'free' organ works,
so this means that basically there is no fundamental difference
between the two categories. O Mensch, bewein dein Sünde
groß (BWV 622) is from the Orgelbüchlein
and one of Bach's most expressive chorale arrangements. Meister
takes a quiet tempo, and the last bars he plays very slowly,
illustrating the closing line of the text: "long on the cross".
In the case of Vor deinen Thron tret' ich hiermit (BWV
668/668a) he warns against any sentimentality and subjectivity
in the interpretation. He plays it in a pretty straightforward
way, in a moderate but certainly not slow tempo.
I can't tell what kind of impact these recordings had in Germany
when they were first released. At that time the organ world
was still pretty conservative, at least in Germany. In the Netherlands,
where I live, the principles of historical performance practice
were much more rapidly embraced, also by organists. In the 1980s
some Dutch organists delivered better performances - from a
historical perspective - of Bach's organ music than Hubert Meister.
That was partly due to the strong influence of Gustav Leonhardt.
In Germany many organists were still playing Bach in the style
of Helmut Walcha. Hubert Meister's performances are quite different
and are therefore interesting from the angle of the developments
in performance practice. Therefore it would not be fair to compare
these performances with the most recent as they are available
on disc right now.
Even so, these discs are more than just a documentation of a
stage in the history of Bach interpretation. As I indicated
I have problems with some aspects of Meister's interpretations.
The tempi are sometimes slowish, the articulation isn't always
as clear as one would wish and there is a lack of differentation
between notes. Listening to this set I have gained great respect
for Hubert Meister's performances, though, and often I find
them quite captivating. His own liner-notes are very helpful
to the understanding of the character of these pieces. It is
a great shame that they are only printed in German and have
not been translated into English. I need to add that Meister's
analyses are not shared by everyone; elsewhere one can find
other analyses. Nevertheless, his liner-notes are interesting
and challenging and should be taken very seriously.
Every lover of Bach's organ music should consider purchasing
this set which is mostly captivating and definitely interesting
from the angle of performance practice.
Johan van Veen