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Organic Bach

available at AmazonJ.S.Bach, Clavier-Übung Part II et al.,
Oehms SACD
I have followed the organ recordings and arrangements of Hansjörg Albrecht on the (always excellent sounding) Oehms SACDs with varying enthusiasm. The latest, which opens with theSinfonia in D for Organ and Orchestra (in the orchestra-less transcription of Marcel Dupré), might just be the best; it unequivocally rocks.

It’s the third volume in Hansjörg Albrecht’s survey of the four work-groups titled Clavier-Übung by Johann Sebastian Bach, after having already recorded the Goldberg Variations (technically Clavier-Übung Part IV; see also: “Goldberg Variations Variations”) and Clavier-Übung Part III (a.k.a. the Organ Mass). This time he tackles Clavier-Übung Part II, which contains the Italian Concerto BWV 971 and the French Overture BWV 831, both in arrangements for the organ (from the two manual harpsichord) by Albrecht himself. He throws a few other goodies into the mix, like the above mentioned Sinfonia, the Chaconne from the Partita for solo violin BWV 1004 (arr. Arno Landmann), and finally a piece actually written for the organ, the Passacaglia BWV 582, one of my very favorite organ works. As curious as a mix this might seem on paper, it comes together marvelously well on the 1977 Muhleisen Organ of St. Paul (Harsewinkel).

Sinfonia in D-major (arr. for organ, excerpt), Hansjörg Albrecht, Oehms 634

As with transcriptions in general, the question here is not: ‘why would I want to hear the Chaconne on the organ?’ but instead: ‘is this a music that sounds wonderful on the organ?’ But is this even an issue with Bach, a furiously productive transcriber himself, and no stranger turning violin pieces into organ pieces (most famously the Toccata & Fugue in d-minor BWV565)? The answer is: “Nah…!” The Chaconne sounds like a full blown organ piece when you don’t think about its provenance (in this transcription the familiarity is a rather distant and strange, never immediate one). The Sinfonia has all the romantic spunk that one might expect Dupré to imbue an organ-work with. The result is a splendid mix of the structure of Bach and the exuberance of the French romantic organ, i.e. César Franck-ish. The more straightforward transcriptions of the Italian Concerto and French Overture that make the heart of this disc are perfectly rousing in their lush grand-organic style. Only the Passacaglia—a work I tend to be narrow and nitpicky about—has a few moments that I find too heavy… where the composition-machination doesn’t quite get into that ‘inherent-necessity / perpetuüm mobile gear’; where its boots get stuck on the ground. But what a small (13-minute) quibble after 60 minutes of goodness.

Chaconne (arr. for organ, excerpt), Hansjörg Albrecht, Oehms 634