J.S. Bach Organ Sonatas

William Zagorski
Fanfare (US)

Bach’s organ sonatas, BWV 525–530, aka trio sonatas (one manual provides voice I, the second, voice II, and the pedals, voice III), were written for pedagogical reasons—to help his eldest son, Wilhelm Friedeman, further his mastery of the organ. Given that goal, they should have been on the order of mere musical exercises instead of the transcendentally poetic pieces that Bach produced. Bach, like Bartók (who was a significant teacher of piano) and Kodály (who strove to teach the youth of Hungary to sing), realized that in order to become a full fledged musician, the student had to be exposed not only to the mechanics of a particular instrument (or of his or her voice), but to expressive possibilities as well.

This is the second recording containing the whole set to enter my library. The first is on an ancient Murry Hill LP compilation of the entire organ œuvre of Bach played on a variety of European organs by Walter Kraft. Those readings, in good sound for their age, convey little of the joyful energy found on this Christopher Wrench offering. Of more modern recordings, there is one of BWV 525 by Jean Guillou performed on the high tech Kleuker organ of Notre Dame des Neiges, Alpe d’Huez, France (Dorian 90111). The ever-quirky Guillou provides a far more energetic and focused romp through the piece than does Kraft, but he fails to project the simple, and telling, metrical accuracy that Wrench does. Guillou’s is a more Romantic approach, occasionally favoring small distensions in his phrasing that undermines Bach’s intentions. Withal, it is, in typical Guillou fashion, an interesting interpretation, but one that I now find somewhat off the mark, and its recording is beginning to show its age ... Wrench’s instrument at the Garnisons Kirke, Copenhagen, is a historical reconstruction completed in 1995 by Carsten Lund of its original 1724 Schnitger organ. Hence it has great bona fides as an authentic Baroque instrument.

My bottom line: Australian-born organist Christopher Wrench has scored, in terms of commitment, energy, musical poise, and, for want of a better way of putting it, sheer joy in music-making—an unequivocal triumph. Full organ specs are provided.