Bach in Montecassino

Bach in Montecassino
Luca Guglielmi
Vivat 108. 69’12

This is a rather unexpected CD of Bach organ music played on a one-manual North Italian organ. But there is an interesting back-story. The pieces come from the Bach works collected by two 18th century scholars, Friedrich Wilhelm Rust and Padre Martini, who both played a part in what became the first collected edition of Bach’s works. After Rust visited the Abbey of Montecassino (south-east of Rome) and played the organ there (in 1766), he presented the Abbey organist with several Bach organ manuscripts. The Abbey continued to build a strong musical reputation over the years, until it was destroyed in 1944 (along with its late 17th century organ) during the Battle of Monte Cassino. The CD includes a pre-war photo of the case of the late 17th century Abbey organ in the monks’ choir.

Padre Martini was an avid collector of music and a renowned teacher. His pupils included the young Mozart and Johann Christian Bach. His vast library (which Burney reckoned to amount to around 17,000 volumes) included works such as the Art of Fugue and the Musical Offering, and is now split between Vienna and Martini’s home city of Bologna.

This CD is recorded at the other end of Italy, on the 1749 organ of San Nicolao in Alice Castello, just north of Turin. The organ was built by Michele Ramasco, with addition in the early 19th century. It has 26 stops on one manual (with one pedal stop), several of which are divided into bass and treble sections. Although it is typical Italian style, it sounds remarkably German on this recording.

Luca Guglielmi’s programme explores not only the works collected by Rust and Martini, but also some lesser-known Bach works playable on a single manual organ. The divided stops enable some pieces written for two manuals to also be performed, with a little bit of understandable jiggery-pokery. He opens with the rarely performed Rust version of the Fantasia Chromatica (BWV 903a) paired with the Fuga sopra il Magnificat, its monumental pedal entry the more effective for being delayed – the pairing making for a nice contrast of the flamboyant and the austere Bach. The rest of the programme includes the four Duets and the seven manualiter Catechism chorale preludes from the Clavierübung III, and a separate Prelude and Fugue from the Martini collection that turned out to be early versions of pieces in the Well-tempered Clavier. The CD finishes with the A minor Fantasia and Fugue (BWV 904) usually placed amongst the harpsichord works, but working very well on the organ.

As well as putting together an unusual and fascinating programme of music, Luca Guglielmi proves to be an accomplished player, with a nice sense of rhythm, pulse and articulation. His choice of repertoire is always apt for the music.

CD: Bach in Montecassino

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