Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Präludium und Fuge c-Moll BWV 546 [13:44]
Allein Gott in der Höh’ sei Ehr’ BWV 717 [4:11]
Fantasia c-Moll BWV 562 [4:32]
Concerto C-Dur BWV 595 [4:24]
Präludium und Fuge f-Moll BWV 534 [9:22]
Kunst der Fuge BWV 1080, Contrapunctus I [4:10]
Valet will ich dir geben BWV 736 [5:59]
Trio super: Allein Gott in der Höh’ sei Ehr’ BWV 664 [5:29]
Fuge c-Moll BWV 575 [4:29]
Passacaglia und Fuge c-Moll BWV 582 [13:51]
Joseph Kelemen (organ)
rec. 2017, Klosterkirche Grauhof
OEHMS CLASSICS OC465 [70:22]
There’s no big announcement on the cover of this release, but the heading to the booklet notes indicate that this is ‘Vol. 1’, so I’ll be intrigued to see how far Oehms Classics and Joseph Keleman are planning to take their Bach project. Joseph Kelemen has already made several recordings for Oehms, including Hassler, Sweelinck and Praetorius, and with this Bach recording we hear him playing an instrument by Christoph Treutmann the Elder (1673-1757). This is the only instrument of his still in existence, but it is relatively well preserved and sensitively restored by Gebrüder Hillebrand Orgelbau in 1989-92. This instrument has numerous features said to have been favoured by Bach, such as a Posaune-32’ pedal stop that adds extra weight in the Fugue in C minor. Tuning is of interest, as the instrument is set up with unequal temperament. This leads to what Keleman refers to as ‘frictions’, but may on occasion make listeners feel they have sucked on a particularly sharp lemon. Certain keys just sound plain out of tune, such as the D-flat major section of the Fantasia in C minor, but these were the circumstances in which Bach worked, and one of the good reasons for developing the tuning that enabled the Well-Tempered Klavier; a compromise in some regards, but at least playable in any key.
Astringent moments aside, this is a fine sounding and large-scale instrument which lends grandeur to the works in this programme. Kelemen emphasises minor key works in this programme, but also seeking to show how Bach achieves “a perfect elegance out of the depths of melancholy (indeed, a surprising brilliance), so that the expected minor tendency actually becomes a side issue in many of his works.” These are all highly skilled performances, with Joseph Kelemen keeping steady tempi but not lacking in expressive movement, allowing each piece its own space by refusing to give in to virtuoso display but not giving in to overly reverential churchiness. The scale of the organ mitigates against anything other than reasonably moderate tempi in any case, as anything too wild would result in too much loss of clarity. This is not an effect of resonance, as the Klosterkirche sounds spacious but by no means vast, but the sheer scale of the instrument invites weighty playing, and Kelemen has my deepest respect for finding an ideal balance for each piece. The specification of the organ is given in the booklet by the way, as is the registration for each work.
The contrasts in registration make for as enjoyable a recital as does the carefully selected programme. The mixture of familiar and less frequently heard pieces is welcome, and the bookends of the large C-minor works adds an extra feel of structure and completion to the whole. The magnificent pedal comes into its own in the Passacaglia and Fugue BWV 582, but there are treats to be had everywhere: that quirky Fugue BWV 575 for instance, it’s theme unusually interrupted by rests, or the genial sounding Concerto in C major, a transcription from the first movement of a violin concerto by Prince Johann Ernst of Saxony-Weimar. As far as recording quality goes there is a certain distance between us and the organ, so the stereo spread is not huge and you won’t hear quite as much bass wallop as with some organ recordings. My reference in these things is Kevin Bowyer’s complete edition on Nimbus Records (review of the MP3 edition), in recordings that have colour, detail and atmosphere in equal measure. For depth of sound and verve in performance I would still stick with this as a first choice for most of Bach’s organ repertoire. Joseph Kelemen’s recital is very fine however, and I for one will certainly be looking out for more Bach from this quarter.