One of the most grown-up review sites around

Search MusicWeb Here
 

 

International mailing


  Founder: Len Mullenger              Founding Editor: Rob Barnett              Contact Seen and Heard here

Some items
to consider


.
La Mer Ticciati

Eriks EŠENVALDS

Detlev GLANERT

Jaw-dropping

simply marvellous

Outstanding music

Elite treatment

some joyous Gershwin


Bartok String Quartets
uniquely sensitive


Cantatas for Soprano

 

REVIEW
Plain text for smartphones & printers


Gerard Hoffnung CDs

Advertising on
Musicweb



Donate and get a free CD

 

New Releases

Naxos Classical



Musicweb sells the following labels
Acte Préalable
(THE Polish label)
Altus 10% off
Atoll 10% off
CRD 10% off
Hallé 10% off
Lyrita 10% off
Nimbus 10% off
Nimbus Alliance
Prima voce 10% off
Red Priest 10% off
Retrospective 10% off
Saydisc 10% off
Sterling 10% off


Follow us on Twitter

Subscribe to our free weekly review listing
sample

Sample: See what you will get

Editorial Board
MusicWeb International
Founding Editor
   
Rob Barnett
Seen & Heard
Editor Emeritus
   Bill Kenny
Editor in Chief
   Vacant
MusicWeb Webmaster
   David Barker
MusicWeb Founder
   Len Mullenger

Support us financially by purchasing this disc from
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
The Art of Fugue, BWV 1080 [81:12]
Johann PACHELBEL (1653-1706)
Canon in D major [6:40]
Chaconne in F major [7:48]
Chorale Preludes von der geburt Christi [45:19]
Chaconne in D major [5:54]
Barbara Harbach (organ)
rec. 1983, Downtown United Presbyterian Church, Rochester, New York (Bach), and 1990, Slee Hall, State University of Buffalo, New York (Pachelbel)
MSR CLASSICS MS 1442 [70:00 + 78:53]

This is a fine recording and Barbara Harbach performs well, but I am sorry to say I can’t muster much enthusiasm for this release as a whole. Bach’s The Art of Fugue is fascinating but needs much contrast of colour and a certain amount of fantasy in performance to bring the music to life. This is perhaps easier with an ensemble though this is also no guarantee of success. Organ players have plenty of stops to muck about with, and Bach’s lack of instructions with regard to speeds can be seen as an opportunity rather than a problem.

The instrument used by Barbara Harbach is a good one, but doesn’t have the character to keep up my interest. There are some nice contrasts of registration but there are long swathes where colours stay pretty much the same, resulting in an unfortunate blandness over extended listening. Harbach’s playing is efficient but lacks playfulness, is dutiful rather than exploratory. If our ideal is to make Bach sound freshly minted and improvisatory we’ve steered a wrong course in this instance.

There are some organ recordings of BWV 1080 which do better in some regards. Terje Winge on Simax (see review) has the advantage of an instrument with a little more sparkle, though this is also playing which is more artful than inspiring. I enjoyed Gerhard Weinberger’s complete Bach set on the CPO label some time ago (see review), and returning to his Art of Fugue makes me appreciate it even more after the Harbach experience. Weinberg brings a sense of poetry to the music which carries us forward and keeps us engaged and inspired, as does Kevin Bowyer on Nimbus (see review). Bowyer’s playing is even more buoyant than Weinberg’s, and with greater clarity and superb recorded range and colour from his Danish instrument this would be my all-round organ choice for this work.

Harbach concludes her BWV 1080 with a grand performance of the famously unfinished Contrapunctus XVIII and rounds everything off nicely with the quietly expressive chorale Komm süsser Tod, BWV 478. Johann Pachelbel is brought in to make up the musical value for the rest of CD 2, and aside from the ubiquitous Canon in D it is good to hear less frequently heard Chaconnes and Chorale Preludes. I’m afraid they do not dispel the feeling that these pieces deserve more life and sparkle. Harbach is rhythmically stable to a fault, making for very four-square interpretations of pieces which should have as much vocal expression as you can muster through a big mechanical instrument. Everything here is very good, but there are no surprises or any sense that, once drawn in, you are being given carefully shaped musical narratives which will connect with and elevate some part of your soul that you’d never realised existed.

Dominy Clements