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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Organ Works - Volume 1
Peter Kofler (organ)
Rec. 2017/19, Jesuit Church (Jesuitenkirche) of St. Michael, Munich
FARAO CLASSICS B108110 [5 CDs: 358.22]

This is the first volume in Peter Kofler’s recording cycle of J.S. Bach’s complete organ works for Farao Classics For this project Kofler has chosen to use the Rieger organ of the Jesuitenkirche St. Michael, Munich where he has been organist since 2008. Coincidentally, only a few weeks ago I was in Munich at this very church, one of sixty attending a recital in the Kreuzkapelle (Chapel of the Holy Cross) with Peter Kofler playing harpsichord accompanying violinist Lena Neudauer.

Recording the complete organ works of Bach is a substantial undertaking. One of the best-known complete sets by Simon Preston, released in 2000, amounted to 14 CDs on Deutsche Grammophon and in 2009 another set by organist Gerhard Weinberger on the CPO label, including works of spurious authority, various arrangements and Die Kunst der Fuge ran to 22 CDs. Other examples include Peter Hurford from 1995 comprising of 17 CDs on Decca; the 2007 cycle performed by Marie-Claire Alain is a 15 CD set on Erato and Ton Koopman’s set from 2009 comprises of 16 CDs on Teldec.

In addition to being a prolific composer, J.S. Bach was also an organist and keyboard player. As a young man he earned praise as a virtuoso organ player, serving as organist at both Arnstadt and Mühlhausen (1703-08) and later as organist and Cammer-Musicus at the ducal court of Weimar (1708-14). Bach composed organ music throughout his life and determining actual dates is extremely challenging; however, the majority of his organ works played today were written during his highly productive Weimar years, a body of work which, as musicologist David Ewen wrote, ‘to this day stands without any parallel.’

Kofler’s Rieger organ in the Jesuitenkirche has four manuals with pedals and 75 stops. Unlike the trend of some recent Bach recordings to use Baroque organs of the period, Kofler uses a ‘modern’ instrument from 2011. The soloist believes that this choice reflects Bach as an innovator who liked to explore modern developments in music including keyboard instruments. For this set, Kofler is using the New Bach Edition (Bärenreiter) and is striving to programme each CD with a combination of the well-known and less encountered works.

The programme on the first CD closely follows on from an organ recital Kofler gave at the Jesuitenkirche St. Michael to celebrate the Bach organ recital given by Mendelssohn in 1840. On the second CD, the programme focuses on the season of Advent and Christmas. CDs three and four are inspired by a pair of recitals and based on the programmes that Kofler gave in Essen. To conclude, the fifth CD was influenced by his association with the Dutch project ‘All of Bach’ which includes the arrangement prepared by Bach of Vivaldi’s violin concerto ‘Grosso Mogul’. When planning repertoire, Kofler talks about his concern for ‘conclusive dramaturgy’ including ‘symmetry’. Accordingly, his Bach organ programmes are planned to be as wide-ranging as possible, often commencing and concluding with a ‘plenum’ piece, positioning a significant work in the middle which is often surrounded by chorales from the principal collections. 

Bach’s organ works are a monumental achievement and for me have for many decades been a personal source of comfort, so I relish the opportunity of hearing them played live in a church setting. In this collection, my highlights tend to be those in the categories of Prelude, Toccata, Fantasia, Passacaglia, middle movement and/or Fugue, BWV 531-582 of which there are fourteen played by Kofler here. The famous Toccata and Fugue, BWV 565 sounds especially magnificent, revealing a stunningly deep reverberation of the Rieger organ. The performance of the Trio Sonata, BWV 529 is very engaging, too, and I relish the playing of the Chorale preludeWir glauben all' an einen Gott, Vater’, BWV 740, creating a poignant mood of consolation. The uplifting playing of BWV 596 (an arrangement of Vivaldi’s Concerto for two violins and cello, RV 565) is full of good humour. Throughout, Kofler’s performances feel solid and uncomplicated, noticeably devoid of any affectation that can become wearing with repeated listening. Kofler’s focused, precise playing is admirable, combining so effectively with his registration choices. Occasionally, I wanted additional expression yet Kofler’s unshowy, disciplined control feels more important overall and the results are never dull.

Kofler and the Rieger organ have been recorded in high-resolution AURO 3D (10.1). The team of recording engineers has striven to replicate the interior sound of the Jesuitenkirche St. Michael in terms of both ‘its horizontal dimensions, but also its vertical acoustics, its spatial height.’ More detail is contained in a technical note in the booklet by recording engineer Martin Fischer and I’ve provided a brief note at the end of this review. During several reporting trips to Munich I’ve attended both organ and choral concerts held at the Jesuitenkirche St. Michael, having had the opportunity of hearing the Rieger organ being played. From various seating positions in the church, I have found the acoustic extremely satisfying, which is remarkable given the vast dimensions of the building. The sound quality of these recordings played on my standard unit is mightily impressive, being beautifully balanced between the frequencies of the organ with splendid clarity.

The booklet takes the form of an interview between Peter Kofler and Mattias Keller. There is data given about the Rieger organ specification and also some technical information about the recording as mentioned above. The lack of general information about J.S. Bach’s body of organ works is disappointing; ideally, it is required. For example, a recent re-issue of the complete organ works of Buxtehude on MDG label is crammed with information and demonstrates the standard which can be achieved.

Peter Kofler is in engaging form here, providing rewarding performances - and the Rieger organ sounds to be in glorious condition.

Michael Cookson

Previous review: Stephen Greenbank

CD 1 [69.11]
1-2. Präludien und Fugen, BWV 552 (‘St. Anne’, part of Clavier-Übung III)
3. Schmücke dich, o liebe Seele, BWV 654 (part of Achtzehn Leipziger Chorale)
4, 5. Präludien und Fugen, BWV 543
6-17. Choralpartita - Sei gegrüßet, Jesu gütig, (Choralpartita) BWV 768
18-21. Pastorale, BWV 590
22-23. Toccata und Fuge, BWV 565

CD 2 [67.58]
1, 2. Präludien und Fugen, BWV 536
3-5. Triosonate, BWV 529 (Sonata No. 5 in C major)
6-8. Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland (part of Achtzehn Leipziger Choräle, BWV 659-661
9-12. Concerto in D minor, BWV 596, (after Vivaldi Concerto for two violins and cello, Op. 3, 11, RV 565 from ‘L'estro armonico’)
13-17. Vom Himmel hoch da komm' ich her (set of five variations in canon for organ), BWV 769 (from Canonische Veränderungen)
18. Choralvorspiel - Wir glauben all' an einen Gott, Vater, BWV 740
19-20. Präludien und Fugen, BWV 550

CD 3 [76.07]
1-2. Präludium und Fuge, BWV 545
3-7. Neumeister Choräle, BWV 1112-1116
8. Allabreve, BWV 589
9-11. Triosonate, (Sonata No. 4 in E minor) BWV 528
12. Fugen, BWV 579
13-18. Sechs Choräle von verschiedener Art (Schübler-Choräle), BWV 645-650
19. Fugen, BWV 575
20-24. Kirnberger Choräle, BWV 699, 738, 722, 704, 729
25. Canzona, BWV 588
26. Fugen, BWV 577

CD 4 [71.20]
1-2. Präludien und Fugen, BWV 548
1-11. Choralpartiten - O Gott, du frommer Gott, BWV 767
12. Trio, BWV 583
13-14. Fantasie und Fuge, BWV 537
15-19. Neumeister Choräle, BWV 1117-1120, 957
20-26. Choralpartiten - Christ, der du bist der helle Tag, BWV 766
27, 28. Präludien und Fugen, BWV 541

CD 5 [73.47]
1-3. Concerto, ‘Grosso mogul’ nach Vivaldi, BWV 594
4-10. Kirnberger Choräle, BWV 730, 731, 741, 714, 717, 711, 715
11-12. Präludium und Fuge, BWV 539
13-14. Achtzehn Leipziger Choräle, BWV 657, 658 
15. Fantasien, BWV 573 (fragment contained in the 1722 notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach)
16. Fantasien BWV 570
17-22. Orgelbüchlein, BWV 639-644
23. Fantasien BWV 572

Recording Engineer Martin Fischer has provided a technical note:
This is the first ever organ recording using high-resolution Auro-3D technology, a consequent advancement from earlier surround formats like 5.1, 7.1 or 2+2+2. Thus the space of the church interior is authentically reproduced not only in its horizontal dimensions, but also in its vertical acoustics, its spatial height. A sound experience that provides fascinating transparency even on a conventional stereo CD. Various high-resolution multichannel formats are available for download on the website


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