J.S. Bach Organ Sonatas

Peter Jewkes
The Sydney Organ Journal (Australia)

Mingled with the pleasure of seeing another local recording being produced, there are always some anxious moments when one arrives for review. What if it’s not good? In an artistic community as comparatively numerically small as Australia, how would one cope with that? Of course any such fears in this case were ill-founded, and the recording is one of the most impressive received, from any country in some time.   

Someone commented to me many years ago that ‘if you can play all 6 Bach Trio Sonatas, you can play anything’. That of course was a sweeping generalisation and a truism, but not without a grain or two of truth among the chaff. Certainly to have recorded them all on 3 dates in July 2003 is an achievement. The playing is utterly confident and accurate, yet anything but sterile and mechanical – it positively bristles with enchanting phrasing, well-balanced registrations, and wide musical appeal. The more effervescent movements (e.g. the final movement of the E flat Sonata or the first of the C major one) bubble over with joie de vivre, and the quiet middle movements have all the right poignancy and subtlety required.

The Danish organ is a 1995 historical reconstruction by Carsten Lund of a 1724 instrument by Schnitger pupil Lambert Daniel Carsen, which looks and sounds simply stunning. Some of the flue stops are to my ears a little more “chiffy” than would be normal on a Schnitger, seemingly owing more to the 1970s than the 1720s, but that is a very minor quibble in the overall context of some extremely beautiful voicing. Helpfully there is a full listing of registrations – a real bonus for anyone studying these works. If there is one thing guaranteed to making one feel both amused and a little old these days, it is observing the musicological rethinks which have occurred since one’s youth in such registrations. As a late teenager or 20-something year old, I would have been seriously upbraided for using a Pedal 16’ stop in a trio sonata, however it is now de rigueur, and indeed there is nary a movement on this whole CD in which a 16’ Pedal stop is not used!  Hopefully we are all moving toward the light of historically-informed-performances – in the meantime the 16’ line certainly makes good harmonic sense to me.

This is at least the second organ CD to emerge from the Melba Foundation, and quite a contrast in style from Calvin Bowman’s earlier Melbourne Town Hall disc reviews in these columns. Both are very well recorded, and a credit to all concerned. The physical presentation, in an attractive folding cardboard booklet with clear plastic protective jacket is excellent, as are the tri-lingual notes inside. What more can I say? This is fine authoritative playing, a lovely instrument, well in tune, and a first-rate recording. Recommended without hesitation!