|Comments:||Peter Holmes said:|
This CD is Vol. 8 of Ton Koopman's recording of J.S. Bach's complete organ works. These variations on the Lutheran church-year chorales are among the most intimate pieces written by Bach. Given his self-imposed restriction of length, he achieves an astonishing range of moods and architechtural forms. The strange harmonic modulations in many of these slower, more comtemplative pieces is something of a marvel, bordering on several distinctly purple passages (in the numbers 16, 20 and 24, for example).
Having grown up on a steady weekly diet of Lionel Rogg on our local parish church organ in Geneva, Switzerland, this recording is quite a revelation. Until recently I considered Rogg's numerous Bach organ recordings the absolute gold standard in the industry. The variety and contrasts of the stops, the well-chosen tempi and, of course, the judicious selection of organs (not least of which the gorgeous Silbermann organs) all contributed to perfection. And now Koopman presents us with perfection with a twist.
What twist ? Simply the stylistic superiority of his playing. Koopman's baroque style is the result of wide experience in baroque keyboard performance in particular and, as conductor, in Bach performance in general. This experience gives him a wider, more general context for interpreting Bach's organ works specifically.
The tempi are on the whole slightly slower than are Rogg's ? not a bad thing to clarify the counterpoint and enhance expression (as well as perhaps make up for the reduced coloration of the organ itself, in comparison to the Silberman organ). The nice foreward movement is never sacrificed, however.
Koopman's rhythmic flexibility is enormous, yet never leaves me feeling subjected to a "romantic" interpretation of the music. Within the strict stylistic bounds of authentic baroque performance, Koopman paradoxically is able to achieve maximum expression and ambiance from these very special set of pieces. Along with the rhythmic flexibility there is the superbly-executed ornamentation ? absolute textbook examples of how and where stylistic correctness and "vocal" expressiveness intersect! Then again, the amount of buoyancy and airiness Koopman is able to obtain from an essentially slow, monotone wind instrument is astonishing. Phrasing, phrasing, phrasing. A case in point is the incredibly dynamic rendering of the chains of painfully unresolved modulations in the number 24 ? awesome and quite flawless. (A poor rendering of this piece would turn it into something by Vidor).
The choice of stops is perhaps more restrained and less differentiated than with Rogg (e.g. in the nuymber 12), but still more colored than with Christopher Herrick, for instance (e.g. in the numbers 8 and 21). This again may have to do with the smaller number of stops available on the Riepp organ than on the Silbermann instrument. However, it in no way detracts from the final experience. I have yet to listen to the recording of Koopman's Clavieruebung on the Silbermann organ, which I anticipate this with pleasure.
With each listening I have found nothing but layers and layers of delights in this recording. Recommended without any reservations.