Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C, BWV564 [14:45]
Organ Concerto in a minor (after Vivaldi), BWV593 [12:09]
Leipzig Chorale Prelude, BWV654, ‘Schmücke dich, o liebe Seele’ [6:24]
Prelude and Fugue in b minor, BWV544 [13:39]
Chorale Prelude, BWV682. ‘Vater unser im Himmelreich’ [6:46]
Prelude and Fugue in G, BWV541 [7:59]
Chorale Prelude, BWV622, ‘O Mensch, bewein’ dein’ Sünde groß’ [5:31]
Passacaglia and Fugue in c minor, BWV582 [13:10]
David Goode (Silbermann Organ, 1711-14, modified 1738)
rec. Freiberg Cathedral, 4-6 July 2010. DDD
Booklet includes organ specification
SIGNUM SIGCD261 [80:26]
I was about to write that this recording came fresh from David Goode’s success as organist in the much-praised Hyperion recording of Havergal Brian’s Proms 2011 Gothic Symphony – see review (Recording of the Month), review, December 2011/2 Download Roundup (Download of the Month) and January 2012/2 Download Roundup – except that the Signum recording was actually made a year earlier.
Having listened to the recording as streamed from the Naxos Music Library, I was pleased to see the CD appear on my doormat as part of my allocation; had it not done so, I would have obtained and reviewed the classicsonline.com download in my Download Roundup, which gives away, of course, at the outset my recommendation of performance, chosen instrument and recording. If you don’t want my detailed reasons, let me recommend that you obtain this recording in one form or another; the CD, of course, sounds more opulent than the NML streamed version, but that’s good enough to enjoy the performances and to assure me that the download from classicsonline.com in best-quality mp3 will not be far behind. You’ll miss out on the booklet, but that’s available from the Signum web page – here – where you can also hear samples and where I note that the spelling Freiberg is ‘corrected’ to Freiburg. Actually both Freiberg and Freiburg have cathedrals, but it’s the Saxon Freiberg that houses the 1714 Silbermann organ. Freiburg is more famous musically for its eponymous Baroque Orchestra.
The organ itself is as much the star of the recording as the composer and organist. A Silbermann organ is many respects the ideal instrument for Bach, whose music in many ways had outgrown the North German instruments which are suitable for Buxtehude and his predecessors, and this is a particularly fine specimen. The Freiberg organ was employed by Marie-Claire Alain for many of her Bach recordings: you can find a one-hour recital of her playing it one YouTube – here. Alain believed that Bach had definitely played this instrument – see her interview for The Organ – here. – and see below for a budget 2-CD set of her Bach recordings.
Oliver Condy is less assertive in the Signum notes, contenting himself with the question ‘did [Bach] venture to Freiberg?’, but he is right in his well-argued belief that this is a fine instrument for Bach’s music, built and modified in his lifetime – and it emerged unscathed from WWII. The booklet contains the specification of the instrument, tuned a little above modern pitch at a’=476.3Hz and in modified mean-tone temperament. Somewhat neglected under the DDR, it’s now in fine fettle as heard on this recording.
My benchmark for recordings of Bach’s organ music is the wonderful and inexpensive complete collection played by Kevin Bowyer on Nimbus which was my Bargain of the Month in mp3 format some time ago: NI1721 [8 mp3 CDs, 31 hours], available direct from MusicWeb International for £23, post paid worldwide. (See my joint review with Kirk McElhearn – here.)
In BWV564 Goode and Bowyer agree fairly closely about the tempo of the central adagio, but Bowyer takes the opening toccata markedly faster (5:32) than Goode (6:10), while the exact opposite occurs in the concluding fugue (Bowyer 5:30, Goode 4:28). Heard one immediately after the other, the differences are noticeable, with Bowyer sounding lighter and more joyous than the slightly weightier and more thoughtful Goode performance of the toccata. Heard on its own, without any other performances in mind, however, there is no sense that Goode is ponderous here or that he takes the closing fugue too fast; I enjoyed his performance greatly and it sets the tone for the whole programme in style.
Both Goode and Bowyer play with sufficient Affekt in the central adagio without over-egging the emotional pudding. Hans Fagius in Volume 4 of his complete collection on BIS (BIS-CD-343/4) adopts tempi for the outer sections exactly mid-way between those of Goode and Bowyer and plays the adagio noticeably more slowly than either – just a tad too slowly for me, but then I listened to him after hearing the other two, which can over-emphasise small differences. If pressed to score these three performances I’d have to place Bowyer at the top of the list for performance, but Goode first for the quality of the organ and the use which he makes of its potential.
Bowyer’s nimble finger-work in the toccata is matched by Goode’s in the fugue. To complete my act of sitting on the fence, I enjoyed Fagius too; his tempi for the outer sections represent perhaps an ideal compromise. The Naxos Music Library, where these three performances and many others are available for comparison suggests an average timing for the complete work of 12:15, faster than any of these three and surely too fast.
My slight preference for Bowyer is more marked in BWV541: in both sections here Bowyer and Fagius (Volume 4 again) sound lighter and more joyful, capturing the vivace marking in the prelude, while Goode is a little weightier and more thoughtful without ever sounding ponderous.
Not surprisingly Bach was intrigued by the music of his older Italian contemporary Vivaldi to the extent that he recast his concerto for four violins as a concerto for four keyboard instruments and adapted some of Vivaldi’s concertos as organ works. BWV593 is an adaptation of RV522, Op.3/8. Here, unsurprisingly, it’s Bowyer who adopts the faster tempi, more in line with modern performances of Vivaldi’s original, but Goode is only seconds slower, with Fagius (Volume 4 again) slower than either in the first movement and splitting the difference in the other sections.
This time I listened to Fagius first so as not to be unfair to him by leaving him last. Even so, I thought his performance of the opening movement just a little too deliberate at 4:11 against Goode’s 4:04, with a really incisive opening statement, and Bowyer’s 3:59. If Bowyer scores overall because of his choice of tempo and lively finger-work, Goode is close on his heels in both departments – his opening sounds wonderfully clean by comparison with Bowyer’s uncharacteristically very slightly slurred phrasing – and ahead on points because of the versatility of the Silbermann organ.
Because of the nature of Bach’s adaptation it’s a little unfair to compare all three with Europa Galante and Fabio Biondi in the original concerto except to note that they show all the organ versions a clean pair of heels and to say that I’m not sure now why I didn’t make their version Bargain of the Month when I reviewed it on a super-budget Virgin Classics 4-CD box of Op.3 and Op.8 (6484082 – see review).
I compared BWV544 with Volume 1 of the Lionel Rogg recordings which EMI have reissued on a pair of Gemini 2-CD sets and with Werner Jacob on an EMI Triple (see below for details of both). In the opening prelude there’s very little difference in tempi between Goode and Rogg but Goode is noticeably slower in the fugue and Jacob is considerably faster than either throughout. I’m inclined to rate Jacob’s exciting performance the best; in direct comparison both Goode and Rogg sound deliberate, though once again I could be very happy with either as heard on its own.
You can make these and other comparisons yourself if you subscribe to the Naxos Music Library, but if you do so, don’t follow the button to purchase the Jacob download from classicsonline.com at a ridiculous £20.97 when the CD set costs around a third of that. (Currently around £7 from UK online suppliers.) Similarly, the Rogg is about half the price on CD of the classicsonline.com download.
So far as such a thing is possible on a single CD, there’s a representative cross-section of JSB’s organ music here, though not including the Toccata and Fugue in d, BWV565, of which most music lovers will probably have at least one version already, and which may well not be an original Bach composition. With performances, recording and quality of presentation about as good as they get, despite my slight preferences for other versions in some cases, and bearing in mind the most generous playing time, this would make an excellent introduction to JSB’s organ music and an excellent adjunct to any collection, even for those who already have the complete works on the Nimbus recording.
Those considering making this Signum CD their first Bach organ recording music might well consider supplementing it with a super-budget 3-CD EMI Triple of Werner Jacob’s recordings (5093932: Bargain of the Month – see review) and/or with 2-CD budget sets from Lionel Rogg (EMI Gemini 2642892) and Marie-Claire Alain (Warner Classics Maestro 2564 689755) which I reviewed together here. Better still, go for the complete set from Kevin Bowyer on Nimbus (above).
Inevitably in some cases I prefer other versions but this cross-section of Bach’s organ music merits an overall commendation.