Bach Organ Works Vol IV

JS Bach: Organ Works Vol IV
Robert Quinney
Coro COR16132. 77’31

J.S. Bach: Organ Works Volume 4 album cover showing detail of a stained glass window in reds, oranges and yellows

For the third time in this series, currently of four CDs, Robert Quinney returns to the influential 1976 Metzler organ in Trinity College Chapel, Cambridge. It was built into the 1694 ‘Father’ Bernard Smith case, and retains several of Smith’s pipes in the principal chorus. The new organ was an early example of the North German Baroque-influenced organ style that had hitherto largely avoided the UK. Although it lacks the historical interest of restored organs of Bach’s time in Germany, it remains a suitable UK organ for Bach performance. 

Apart from the first volume of this Bach series, devoted to the Trio Sonatas, and recorded on the other key UK organ in the continental style, at The Queen’s College, Oxford, Robert Quinney’s programmes have been of a ‘recital’ format rather than concentrating on one genre. For this volume, he looks at examples of Bach’s interest in Italian compositional style, notably the use of ritornello, the practice of returning to earlier material of a piece.

The opening Chorale Fantasia on Komm, Heiliger Geist, the first chorale of the Leipzig collection, is a prime example, the ebullient opening arpeggio figure recurring during the piece as each line of the chorale is heard in the pedal. It is followed by another version of the same chorale, this time in the earlier chorale prelude style of pre-imitation, with each line of the chorale preempted in the accompaniment before heard in a solo line.

The Concerto in D minor (BWV 596) is one of Bach’s many homages to Vivaldi. It is a reworking of one of Vivaldi’s Op. 3 L’estro armonico orchestral concertos for organ, fully absorbing the Italian vitality and musical structure whilst setting it into an idiomatic organ texture.

The following four pieces are all based on chorales, with two more examples from the Leipzig Chorales (An Wasserflüssen Babylon BWV 653, and Schmücke dich, o liebe Seele BWV 654) and a rarely heard early version of An Wasserflüssen Babylon (BWV 653b) with the indication cum doppio pedale. The use of double pedal reflected an even earlier style of the 17th-century North German organ composers that culminated in the music of Reinken, Buxtehude and Bruhns, all three strong influences on the young Bach. As Robert Quinney notes in his scholarly programme notes, this piece might be connected to the famous visit that Bach made to Hamburg in 1720 when he played in front of the then 77-year old Reinken, improvising for half an hour on the same chorale theme as Reinken’s monumental chorals fantasia on An Wasserflüssen Babylon. 

The Chorale Partita on Sei gegrüsset, Jesu gütig, BWV 768, also reflects a link with Bach’s youth, in this case with the chorale variations of Georg Böhm that he would have heard while a schoolboy in Lunenburg where, incidentally, he also copied out Reincken’s massive An Wasserflüssen Babylon from a manuscript of Böhm’s.

The final piece is one of Bach’s grandest creations, the Prelude & Fugue in E minor (BWV 548). The fugue is nicknamed ‘The Wedge’ because of the expanding shape of the intervals of the fugue subject.

Robert Quinney’s playing is precise and articulate, playing into the acoustic of Trinity College Chapel well. Very occasionally he slightly overdoes things, for example in his overly-staccato rendering of variation III of Sei gegrüsset, Jesu gütig, but his performances should nonetheless repay repeated listening, a key test for any recording as opposed to a live concert performance where more risks can be taken.

The CD notes (only in English) include the specification of the Trinity College organ, but not individual registrations.

Fantasia super Komm, Heiliger Geist BWV 651
Komm, Heiliger Geist BWV 652
Concerto in D minor BWV 596 (after Vivaldi)
An Wasserflüssen Babylon BWV 653
Schmücke dich, o liebe Seele BWV 654
Partita on Sei gegrüsset, Jesu gütig BWV 768
An Wasserflüssen Babylon cum doppio pedale BWV 653b
Prelude & Fugue in E minor BWV 548