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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Organ Works – Volume 3
Prelude & Fugue in C, BWV531 [7:30]
Fantasia & Fugue in C minor, BWV537 [8:48]
Chorale Preludes on “Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr‘“, BWV 717, 711 and 715 [8:48]
Chorale Partita on “Ach was soll ich Sünder machen?“, BWV770 [12:11]
Toccata in C, BWV566a [10:24]
Prelude & Fugue in C minor, BWV546 [10:58]
Chorale Preludes on “Herr Jesu Christ, dich zu uns wend“, BWV 709, 726 [4:24]
Passacaglia & Fugue in C minor, BWV582 [14:36]
Masaaki Suzuki (organ)
rec. 2018, Great Silbermann Organ, Freiberg Cathedral, Germany
BIS BIS-2421 [79:07]

Denied the obvious choice of presenting Bach’s organ works in any kind of chronological order – although booklet-note writer Albert Clement tries his best to date the works on this disc – Masaaki Suzuki has tried a few tricks to present single disc compilations which are both attractive and coherent in his complete cycle for BIS. For disc 3 he adopts, as he had for the two previous issues in the series, a mix of chorale-based pieces framed by larger works incorporating fugues. But he has done something different here; he has fixed the programme tonally on C. To maintain the C tonality Suzuki includes a C major version of the Toccata in E BWV566 (Clement argues that the two versions are “equally authoritative”, but I have my doubts). Another programming innovation is the inclusion of multiple chorale preludes based on a single chorale.

A less welcome innovation comes from BIS, who have elected to issue the disc not in a traditional plastic jewel case but in what they trendily describe as a “BIS ecopak”; basically a flimsy cardboard cover held together by an adhesive label of such strength that to get to the disc you have to tear the cover. A minor irritation, no doubt, but enough to sour the experience of an otherwise thoroughly enjoyable disc.

Since Suzuki is not recording his Bach series in close proximity of both place and time - by my reckoning he (and the BIS team) have already built up a carbon footprint of some 18,000 kms flying between Groningen in The Netherlands (Vol.1), Kobe in Japan (Vol.2) and now on to Freiberg in Germany, and the recordings span some five years – each recording offers something very different in terms of sound and interpretation. Here, on the magnificent Silbermann organ at Freiberg, Suzuki has such an opulent stoplist and sumptuous acoustic to play with, that he eschews the somewhat flamboyant ornamentation and extravagant tempi of the previous issues. All of this wonderful sound is superbly caught in this BIS SACD recording.

As for the playing, Suzuki combines stylistic authority and musical insight with a fabulous technical mastery – there are some wonderfully florid flourishes in the third of the Allein Gott Chorale Preludes and some truly dazzling footwork in the youthfully exuberant, if musically meagre, BWV531 Prelude – and while he employs the full resources of this superb 1714 instrument, there is never any hint that registrations are dictated by the sound they produce rather than their musical suitability.

The climax of the disc is certainly the Passacaglia & Fugue, which is perhaps the work which might most attract the casual listener: the organ aficionado will need no enticement for this release other than the knowledge that a masterly Bach interpreter is presiding over a fabulous Bach-era instrument. Suzuki’s is a vividly imaginative and wonderfully coherent interpretation, which flows easily through a glorious panoply of vivid organ colours. He combines majesty and wit, strength and subtlety in a performance which is utterly compelling; the icing on the cake of what is a very fine release indeed.

Marc Rochester

Comment from Robert von Bahr, CEO, BIS records

Dear Mr. Rochester,

while you are obviously entitled to your thoughts, however ill-informed, I would be very grateful, if you checked your facts before going in print with them.

Then about BIS ecopak. Here I need to take issue with you, since what you write doesn't amount to any logical reasoning; rather the contrary as I will show.

- Yes, we have spent a long time on flights to be able to record the organs, Masaaki Suzuki wants to record. In the end, it is easier to transport us to the organ than the organ to us.
Does this fact, which is quite true, absolve us from the goal of making as little environmental damage as possible? I find this a most illogical and - frankly - unpleasant way of reasoning, especially in this day and age. So just because we are necessarily wasteful in one area absolves us from trying our best in another? Oh dear!!!

- And, then, since you open the box and are talking about flight kilometers:
We produce the entire BIS catalogue new releases in ecopaks now. We're talking a good 100'000 discs/year now, gradually going up to c. 300'000 in a couple of years, saving c. 42% weight. Most of our shipments go overseas in either direction, to the same places as our recording personnel, so our numbers are entirely comparable. We are saving c. 45 grammes per SACD. This means now c. 4'500 kilos in less weight, going up to way past 10'000 kilos/year in the near future. That is rather more than one person's c. 75 kilo, going the same way, even if you multiply that with our c. 60 recordings/year. So your reasoning is actually to our favour!
So, Mr. Rochester, if you want to dazzle people with your mathematical reasoning, do think it through to the logical conclusion! That's what I would call intellectual honesty rather than your snide remark.

- OK, you don't like the ecopak. Your privilege. But don't call them flimsy, because they are NOT. And, if you don't believe me, take an ordinary jewel case and an ecopak and drop them on the floor. I'd bet I know which will withstand it and protect the SACD, and which will not. Add the lesser place on the shelf and the much more beautiful surface, and the fact that the ecopak is made entirely from renewable and ecological sources, whereas the jewel case is made from plastic, and there we are. If you cannot remove the detachable paper sticker with your nail, something that takes me all of 3 seconds, then why not cut it open with something sharp, rather than ripping it up? You could also have mentioned that the BIS ecopak is a gatefold LP sleeve in SACD format in certified ecological cardboard, with a normal booklet inside, rather than implying a single sleeve of the sort that you get as a freebie together with a newspaper, but why bother with facts?

It is one thing to instinctively dislike something new, and quite another to invent unfair reasons for doing so.

I am sorry to be so upset, but, in the end, it is initiatives like the BIS ecopak, in all kinds of walks of life, that will do something tangible to save this planet. Your review is doing nothing to further that cause.

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