J S Bach: Organ Works Vol III
Coro COR16132. 61’31
This timely (but subtle) release for the season includes three choral preludes on the Advent choral Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland, the Italianate Pastorella and the Canonic Variations on the Christmas choral, Vom Himmel hoch, together with the Prelude and Fugue in C (BWV 547) which some commentators have associated with Christmas performance. These works are enclosed within the well-known Fantasia and Fugue in G minor (BWV 542) and the final exhilarating Prelude and Fugue in G (BWV 541).
Robert Quinney plays the 1976 Metzler organ in Trinity College Chapel, Cambridge, built in the case of the 1694/1708 ‘Father’ Bernard Smith organ, and retaining several Smith pipes in the Hauptwerk chorus. Although not up to the ‘authenticity’ standards of many German organs of the time, it certainly copes well with Bach. It may surprise many organ listeners that the opening G minor Fantasia and Fugue was almost certainly never intended to be performed as a pair, even with a full-length Lutheran service inserted between them. As Quinney explains in his details notes, the two pieces are only put together in two posthumous sources. But they make a grand pair.
Robert Quinney plays in a refreshingly uninhibited style, with considerable freedom of touch, ornamentation and phrasing. His articulation is crisp and clear, allowing inner voices to be heard. I am not sure whether his flourishes and additions are a result of youthful exuberance or of scholarly research and analysis, but they certainly make you sit up and listen. This rather improvisatory manner of playing can work well in recital, but is a rather risky approach for recordings, usually intended to be listened to over and over again. But Quinney’s playing is well short of being mannered. He never steps over the mark in his personal interpretations – we are still hearing Bach rather than Quinney.
The playing of the second prelude on Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland (BWV 660 – à due bassi e canto fermo) is exemplary, making light of the fact that the bustling duo accompaniment to the chorale melody is played with the left hand and some very nimble feet and, I can assure you, is very difficult to play at all, never mind with such panache as demonstrated here. I wasn’t too sure of Quinney’s interpretation of the Prelude and Fugue in C (BWV 547). There is evidence that large scale works like this were intended for full organ performance (which would have been appropriate with the work’s position in the CD), but Quinney plays the Prelude on a very light and sparkling registration and opens the fugue on a similar sound, but then builds up to an enormous climax. However he does respect the clear indication that the final chord should be played short. This is the case in several Bach works, but is often ignored by performers.
The Canonic Variations are performed in the order of the autograph rather than the printed open-score version. As well as a few textural differences, the order of the five movements is different, with the movement usually heard as a thundering conclusion (the Cantus firmus canon), now appearing as the middle movement, giving an arched structure to the work. Quinney manages to make this rather severe intellectual exercise into a musical coherent and attractive whole. There is a slight confusion of language in that the Canonic Variations are listed on the CD cover in their English translation, but the notes use the original German text Einige Canonische Veränderungen über das Weynachts-Lied ‘Vom Himmel hoch da komm ich her’. But the word ‘Prelude’ is used throughout rather than the more authentic form of ‘Praeludium’.
The programme notes are only in English. Although full details of the organ are given, including the specification, no individual registrations are given. However they all seem apt, and are not difficult to work out from the specification.