I love music.

I write about the music I like and have purchased for the benefit of better understanding it and sharing my preferences with others.

The Complete Organ Works of J. S. Bach

#alttext# It wasn't too long ago that a box from Amazon arrived that contained the complete organ works of Bach, performed several years ago by Ton Koopman, in his monument recorded by Das Alte Werk/Warner. I'm sad to say the label has given up on classical music, but I'm glad Koopman was able to finish his marathon, unlike that of his cantata series, which was with another Warner label, Erato. Koopman now records on his own label, Antoine Marchand. Interestingly enough, this name is his own, "transliterated" into French. He's got to be an interesting guy, Mr. Koopman. The man is currently trying to record everything by Buxtehude, and look at his work with Bach - he's recorded his entire Cantata series and his complete organ works. It's a shame he's not also a violinist and cellist, because we might also get those monuments from Bach as well. I've enjoyed Koopman's earlier releases from this collection, having already owned 3 of the volumes of organ works (among them the first volume of toccatas and fugues, and his trio sonatas for organ). Koopman's aim in each case has been to showcase each volume on a different historical instrument, so not only do we get to hear Bach's works on historically accurate instruments, we also get the historically accurate environment (the acoustics of the churches) and an idea about Bach's registrations (although these are ultimately up to Mr. Koopman's choices). Koopman writes at length about the nature of his pedal playing and how because he never learned the more advanced "heal to toe" method, his abilities mimic Bach's, who it is thought, used the same foot technique. After following Mr. Koopman for a number of years, really before I was in college, I have a great respect not only for his playing, but his scholarship and for the amazing mind he must have to take-on very challenging music in a very historically-informed way. He's a genius, for sure, and I've enjoyed the verve he brings to some of his playing. The complete series from Teldec Das Alte Werke is a testament to one composer's art, and likely the best complete collection we'd find. Everything we might want has been recorded, from the Neumeister chorales, the Kirnberger chorale settings, the toccatas, the fugues, and even the organ concertos arranged after other composers. Some of Koopman's registrations are "interesting," I have to say, they'll grab your attention. I've found a few tempos here and there a little slow (usually because I'm comparing the piece to another which goes faster). But I can hardly complain. Koopman does the music very right in so many of these expertly-recorded sessions. And some pieces scream by quickly, for sure, based on what I'd consider germane, for the acoustic involved. But this is one of those cases where I don't feel qualified to question Koopman's choices. There are a lot of choices to be made in musical performance, and often there's never one "right" solution. Koopman chose solutions in each case that were pragmatic for the time. I look forward to the coming months when I can fully appreciate this collection, as I know I will for many years. I am glad I could find them in CD format at full resolution for a value price - my thanks go to the curator of the Folding Harpsichord for the tip on their availability. Which makes me reflect on my first Koopman organ experience - this one recorded in the early 1980s for DG Archiv. It was a $50 set I purchased, featuring two CDs by Koopman on organ, and another with harpsichord works recorded in the 1970s by Trevor Pinnock. Compared to the non-baroque specialists I had heard through borrowed recordings (Daniel Chorzempa, Marie-Calire Alain, Simon Preston), Koopman's reading was somehow more fresh, more original. I learned later this was his approach with playing on the organ keyboard, along with his artful addition of ornaments. The music was baroque, for sure, in his hands. But I have to say - his take on Bach into the late 1990s with this Teldec series is different from the earlier recording. For one, the technology for recording has improved greatly, and the variety of organs in this set is a delight and treat. But second, Koopman's own style is even more esoteric, which is a good thing... it's like a reduced sauce, it's richer, deeper, and for Bach's music, more heartfelt. This release is a must-have for collectors of Bach's oeuvre. No, I haven't listened to all of Herrick's recordings, or even the old E. Power Biggs recordings. But in recent memory, I can't think of a more dedicated scholar of Bach's art, and I also can't think of anyone more capable of realizing Bach's ideas in sound. To date, this may be as good as it gets.

Pieter Wispelwey on Bach

Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin Concert