Bach Family - Complete Organ Music
Stefano Molardi, Luca Scandali, Filippo Turri (organ)
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 95803 [24 CDs]
When we think of Bach organ music, we tend automatically to think of Johann Sebastian Bach and stop there. However, there is a cornucopia of fine organ music from other members of the Bach clan, including two of Johann Sebastian’s sons, his supposed favourite, Wilhelm Friedmann, as well as arguably his most gifted son, Carl Philipp Emanuel. Add to this Johann Sebastian’s forebears and the list becomes even longer; there are also those works by lesser members of the Bach family which have been attributed to other, more famous members of the family to improve the stock of music. One such work is the Fantasia and Fugue in A minor BWV561, where the attribution still remains uncertain and is here included in a section dedicated to such works. The only other collection of organ works by members of the Bach family is an old Hänssler Classics disc where Franz Haselböck presents the music of ten members of the family, some of whom do not appear in this set, on a single disc (CD 94.038).
I have a number of recordings of the organ music of members of the Bach family, including a couple of the complete organ music of Johann Sebastian Bach, and when I recently reviewed the Brilliant box set of his Music for Christmas (95853), I commented on the disc of organ music performed by Stefano Molardi, that on the evidence of the playing presented there and on the two discs included in Brilliant’s survey of 500 Years of Organ Music (95310), that I would be putting his set of the complete organ music on my wish list. Little did I know that within a couple of months I would be afforded the opportunity to review this set, containing Molardi’s complete recording. My aim here is briefly to review the music of Johann Sebastian, whilst dedicating the bulk of this review to the more unfamiliar members of the Bach family. As such, I would like to be able to say that the Molardi recording of J. S. Bach lived up to my expectations, and whilst in some ways it did, there were times that I was less impressed. Some of his playing is, on occasion, lacking in personality, as if it was the end of a long day and he wanted to go home, leading to some plain and less inspired playing; however, they still sound fine, after all every organist has an off day and I am sure we all have favourite sets, but still turn to other organists for certain works. I know I do. I am glad to say though, that the majority of Molardi’s recordings did meet my expectations, and there are more pros than cons, so whilst this will not topple my favourite recording of Johann Sebastian Bach’s organ music, there are certainly discs that I will be returning to again and again.
Whilst I have a fair amount of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach’s keyboard music, that does not really include his music for the organ, with my only foray in to the genre being the Naxos recording of the Organ Sonatas by Iain Quinn (8.573424), this poses the question if this is ‘complete’, where is the recording of the Sonata in A Major Wq 65/32, H.135? of the five sonatas presented here, the Sonata in A minor Wq70:4 (H85) has always been a favourite, probably as it is the only one that I have heard live. Here Luca Scandali gives a wonderful performance, with the rousing opening Allegro assai setting the scene for a recording that offers the listener far more than Iain Quinn’s does. The music seems to come alive in Luca Scandali’s hands and feet; this is a much more nuanced and enjoyable interpretation of the sonatas. Add to this the shorter works, such as the Fugue in D minor Wq119:2 (H99), or D minor H372.5 and you appreciate how valuable this recording is, which is also available as a stand alone 2 CD set (94812), something that is reinforced by Scandali’s playing of 5 Choräle mit ausgesetzten Mittelstimmen H. 336.
The following two discs bring together the music of no less than five members of Bach family, most of which might be new to people, coupled with those pieces where attribution is uncertain, indeed these pieces make up the majority of CD 19. Disc 18 opens with the wonderful Fantasia and Fugue in F by Johann Ernst Bach who was the son of Johann Bernhard Bach whose music also appears on this disc. Johann Ernst studied in Leipzig with his uncle (New Grove), Johann Sebastian Bach, whose influence can be seen in the two Fantasia and Fugues recorded here, which constitute his complete organ music; indeed he composed very little music. His father, Johann Bernhard is the most represented composer on these two discs and was, according to the notes, the second cousin of Johann Sebastian, highly thought of as a composer and performer in the court of Eisenach. His music is limited to a few surviving works, although his obituary notice refers to “many beautiful overtures in the manner of Telemann”, with whom he occasionally. His chorale prelude on Vom Himmel hoch, da komm ich her, stands out as being so different to those by Johann Sebastian, although it is probably his Ciacona I B flat Major which is his best-known work. Of the other composers, Johan Lorenz is represented here by his only surviving work, his splendid Prelude and Fugue in D; he was another pupil of Johann Sebastian, and it is perhaps the lack of extant music which means that he is not covered in the New Grove Bach Family book. The remaining two composers fail to feature in the New Grove either, with Johann Friedrich Bach being represented by a single and quite dramatic Fugue in G minor, whilst Heinrich has two chorale preludes performed, the notes stating that his only surviving organ works are the three preludes, so it is sad that the third of these is not presented here. The pieces where attribution is uncertain, as already stated, make up most of disc 19 and beginning with the Fantasia and Fugue in A minor BWV561, they certainly make a strong case for inclusion in this set. Some of the pieces might be familiar to listeners, as they all have BWV references, although most are BWV Anh or BWV deest, but there are also BWV747 and BWV754, which like BWV561, are now thought to be by another hand to that of Johann Sebastian Bach.
The organ music of Wilhelm Friedemann Bach is known to me through the CPO disc of the Complete Organ Works (777 527-2), which raises a question of completeness on both accounts. The CPO disc opens and closes with a Fantasie, the first in D minor the second in C minor, which are played wonderfully by Friedhelm Flamme, neither of which appear here, whilst these two discs (CDs 20 & 21) contain no fewer than eighteen Fugues whilst Flamme’s disc only presents eleven of them. However, this anomaly can I think, be explained by the performer’s, and hence the recording label’s interpretation of what instrument is appropriate for which piece. This 2-disc set was originally released in January 2018 (95467) and I imagine was included in the Wilhelm Friedemann Bach Edition later that year. As a performer, Wilhelm Friedemann Bach was regarded as the finest organist of his day, as is befitting of Johann Sebastian’s favourite son. Despite their being a proliferation of Fugues, there is a great variety here, with some of the pieces being quite flamboyant, whilst others sound a little like exercises in counterpoint. The music is well played and recorded.
The final three discs present music by just two composing members of the family, the brothers Johann Christoph and Johann Michael Bach, the sons of Heinrich Bach, whose meagre output was included on discs 18 and 19. The music of Johann Michael is well known to me through a very good Hänssler Classic disc performed by Franz Haselböck (CD 94.024) which I bought a number of years ago and have enjoyed ever since. These three discs are largely made up of chorale preludes; indeed, this form of organ composition seems to be all that Johann Michael wrote, whilst his brother offers some variety with his chorale preludes being interspersed with three major sets of variations, which are in the style of Pachelbel, as well as a Prelude and Fugue in E flat Major. The pieces point directly towards Johann Sebastian Bach and he is known to have had manuscripts by both composers in his collection. The performances are excellent and on par with those of Franz Haselböck, the only drawback being the prized F. Volckland Organ of the Cruciskirche in Erfurt which sometimes sounds a little over blown and which leads at times to a blaring of the instrument’s registers.
On the whole, this is a valuable set for showing just how the organ style of Johann Sebastian was influenced and developed from earlier members of the Bach family and was then passed on to his sons. Whilst it might not truly live up to the title ‘Bach Family Complete Organ Music’, it is an invaluable tool in the study of the Bachs and their music. The performances are at least good with a lot of them being very good indeed, whilst the sound is as good as it could be. The booklet notes by Philip Borg-Wheeler, whilst good when it comes to Johan Sebastian Bach are on the sparse side when it comes to those lesser known members of the family, and I for one, certainly wished for more information. In the booklets for the individual releases you seem to have been given the specifications of the organs, something that is missing here, which is a shame, but the set is a worthy investment for anyone interested in this music.
Discs 1 – 15
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Stefano Molardi (organ)
T.H.G. Trost Organ, Stadtkirche ‘Zur Gotteshilfe’, Waltershausen, Thuringia, Germany, 2013
G. Silbermann Organ, Katholische Hofkirche, Dresden, Germany, 2013
Zacharias Hildebrandt organ, St. Jacobikirche, Sangerhausen, Germany, 2013
J. G. Thielemann organ of the Dreifaltigkeitskirche, Grafenhain, Thuringia, Germany, 2013
Discs 16 – 17
Carl Philipp Emanuel BACH (1714-1788)
Luca Scandali (organ)
Dell’Orto e Lanzini organ, Chiesa di Sta Maria Assunta, Vigliano Biellese, Italy 2013
Discs 18 – 19
Johann Ernst BACH (II) (1722-1777)
Johann Bernhard BACH (I) (1676-1749)
Johann Lorenz BACH (1695-1773)
Johann Friedrich BACH (I) (1682-1730)
Heinrich BACH (1615-1692)
Works where attribution is uncertain
Stefano Molardi (organ)
Dell’Orto e Lanzini organ, Chiesa Parrocchial di S Tomaso, Gresso di Zola Predosa, Bologna, Italy, April 2018
Discs 20 – 21
Wilhelm Friedemann BACH (1710-1784)
Filippo Turri (organ)
L. Patella Chest Organ, Abbazia di Santa Maria delle Carceri, Carceri (Padua), Italy, 3rd April 2017
F. Zanin Organ, Chiesa di Sant’Antonio Abate, Padua, Italy, 9th April 2017
Discs 22 – 24
Johann Christoph BACH (I) (1642-1703)
Johann Michael BACH (I) (1648-1694)
Stefano Molardi (organ)
F. Volckland Organ, Cruciskirche, Erfurt, Germany, September 2016