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A Survey of Bach Organ Cycles

Discographies on ionarts: Bach Organ Cycles | Beethoven Piano Sonata Cycles I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX | Bruckner Symphony Cycles | Dvořák Symphony Cycles | Shostakovich Symphony Cycles | Sibelius Symphony Cycles

Like the Beethoven Piano Sonata Cycle Survey, the Sibelius Symphony Cycle Survey, the Bruckner Cycle Survey, and the Dvořák Symphony Cycle Survey this is a mere inventory of what has been recorded and whether it is still available. Favorites are denoted with the “ionarts’ choice” graphic. There are few cycles that I don't love or like or wouldn’t find a reason to recommend (the most charming Berlin Classics set for its use of different Gottfried Silbermann organs, for example, or the Weinberger set for its total, exhaustive, scholarly completeness). To restrict the wild throwing about of recommendations somewhat, they are limited to sets that are decidedly in print.

The sets are listed in (roughly) chronological order. If you can add or correct information, you are most welcome to do so. Where known, the organs used are added in ‘mouseover’ text on the set’s image.

The idea of “complete” Bach organ works, meanwhile, is a concept open to considerable interpretation. One can, in all genuineness, define Bach’s organ works in such a restrictive way, that they fill some 12 CDs. But one can throw in miscellany, transcriptions, concertos, and apocryphal works to reach (depending on spacing and speed) well over 20. Unless a Bach organ cycle sets out to be über-complete as a matter of principle, editorial decisions have to be made as to what gets included and what not.

Updated: 04/24/2016: André Isoir and and the Hänssler cycle have been put into chronological order. The details of the organs used (on mouse-over, depending on your browser) are now included for Koopman, Alain III, Weinberger, Foccroulle and (partly) Phillips.

Updated: 01/25/2015: André Isoir has been re-issued by the terrific La Dolce Volta label and included below.

One example: Although billed as a “complete” set (and certainly included here), why did Sir Simon Preston in his recording for Archiv not include BWV 668(a)? Turns out Peter Williams (musicologist, general editor of the New Oxford J.S. Bach Edition), whose advice was sought for the recording project, was insistent on not including them Preston thought Williams suggested that because it's apocryphal Bach. More likely Williams objected because of the above-mentioned status. The exclusion of the Neumeister chorales went along the same rationale, with Deutsche Grammophon being more keen on the "core organ works", than a catch-all box (Sir Simon: "Which is is rather a nice thing, actually").

Very incomplete cycles, especially when unlikely ever to be finished, are excluded from this list. Also not included are cycles that never made if from LP to CD (like Marie-Claire Alain’s first, George C. Baker’s [first integral by an American], Jean-Jacques Grünenwald’s, and Lionel Rogg’s first and third cycles), and those that are not commercially available with any amount of reasonable convenience. That nixes cycles like those of Bram Beekman or Ewald Kooiman.

available at Amazon
Michel Chapuis,

(Valois / United Archives)
14 CDs, oop,~$50-80

mp3 version ~$17
UK | DE | FR

1 Also available from Membran/Documents ("cheap, not inexpensive") as two sets of 10 discs each (Set 1, Set 2), but purchase from that label cannot be recommended.

Thanks to Hans-Joachim Rill, organist of St.Blasius, Fulda, for additional and extensive information on the church's instrument and restoration.


Anonymous said...

Isoir complete set has just been reissued by La Dolce Volta label.

How do you compare Alain (3rd set), Isoir and Foccroulle sets?

jfl said...

What I have of Isoir, I love... but it's limited to his Art of the Fugue and the Concertos. I hope to get the rest anon.

I've just gotten Foccroulle, recently, and while I like it, I've not been truly enchanted.

I do VERY much enjoy Alain III.

jfl said...

Well, I received Isoir earlier today and I am giddy with anticipation to listen to it all. More anon.

jfl said...

I love Isoir more than I would recommend him to others... there might be a lot of positive bias going into my listening. (It starts with the magnificent set, which is just a joy to behold. So far I'm having problems with one of the discs, though, which may have a coding error. Organ Mass (Part 2), no less, which is one of my favorite bodies of work on the organ.