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Briefly Noted: Suzuki Plays the Bach Organ Works

available at Amazon
J.S. Bach, Organ Works, Vol. 1, M.Suzuki

(released on October 9, 2015)
BIS-2111 | 79'26"

available at Amazon
C. Wolff and M. Zepf, The Organs of J.S. Bach: A Handbook, trans. Lynn Edwards Butler
(University of Illinois Press, 2012)
Most of the Baroque-heads of my acquaintance are already champing at the bit for tonight's performance by Bach Collegium Japan, at the Library of Congress (November 4, 8 pm). If, by some chance, you have not already reserved your ticket, they are all gone, but you have a good chance of still getting a seat if you show up early and wait on line for an unclaimed spot. (Next year, remember to read my Top 25 Season Preview, so you do not miss something like this.) The program features two major soprano showcase pieces, Handel's recently rediscovered setting of the Gloria (HWV deest) and Bach's solo cantata Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen, to be sung by Joanne Lunn, plus instrumental pieces by Bach and Vivaldi.

Masaaki Suzuki founded Bach Collegium Japan when he returned to his homeland after graduate studies in organ and harpsichord in the Netherlands. His recordings of Bach's cantatas and other choral works are acclaimed, and he has been slowly working his way through the instrumental works. This is the first installment of what will eventually be a complete recording of the organ works, and it is delightful listening. Suzuki has chosen to begin this odyssey on the beautifully restored historic organ of the Martinikerk (St. Martin's Church) in the Dutch city of Groningen, built by the German builder Arp Schnitger and enlarged by Albertus Hinsz, all during the lifetime of J.S. Bach. Although this instrument was disastrously altered in later periods, it has been put back to its historic dimensions by Jürgen Ahrend. It makes a gorgeous range of sounds, all captured beautifully on this disc.

As far as we know, Bach never had any connection with this organ or even played on it, although it is not that far out of the sphere of Bach's life. For an absolutely thorough guided tour of the instruments that Bach knew and played on, Christoph Wolff's magnificent study was translated into English a couple years ago and is well worth your time; for example, Bach certainly knew other instruments built by Arp Schnitger in Germany. A selection of works shows off the Martinikerk instrument's range, with a full registration in the G major fantasia, BWV 572; the buzzy tuning, sometimes hair-raisingly rural, of the reed stops in the F major Pastorella, BWV 590; some feather-light finger- and pedal-work in the monstrously difficult "Wedge" fugue, BWV 548. The registrations are all colorful and attractive, and the appeal is both purely musical and scholarly, with savant notes on each piece by Prof. Albert Clement, of the University of Utrecht. The only shortcoming, albeit a minor one, is the omission of translations of the German texts of the chorales set by Bach (O Gott, du frommer Gott and Vom Himmel hoch da komm’ ich her), after making a strong case for organists studying these texts to garner clues about how to play Bach's music derived from them.

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