Gramophone Awards Shortlist 2016
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JS Bach ‘Bach in Montecassino’ Chorale Preludes – Allein Gott in der Hoh sei Ehr, BWV675; Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu dir, BWV687; Jesu, meine Freude, BWV753; Vater unser im Himmelreich, BWV683; Wenn wir in höchsten Nöten sein, BWV668a. ‘Chromatic’ Fantasia, BWV903a. Duets, BWV802-805. Fantasias and Fugues – BWV537; BWV904. Fantasia super Jesu, meine Freude, BWV713. Fuga sopra il Magnificat, BWV733. Fughetta super Wir glauben all an einen Gott, BWV681. Kyrie drei Sätze BWV672-674. Das wohltemperirte Clavier – Fugue, BWV846; Prelude, BWV870 Luca Guglielmi org Vivat F VIVAT108 (69’ • DDD) Played on the organ of Chiesa di San Nicolao, Àlice Castello, Italy
Presenting Bach’s organ music in fresh pastures is no easy feat but the programming alchemy here is highly compelling. The first element is an original 1749 organ in Piedmont, mirroring the instrument that graced the Abbey of Montecassino before it was destroyed in 1944. The matching components are the renowned teacher (of Mozart among others), musicologist and arranger Padre Martini, and performer-collector Friedrich Wilhelm Rust, whose family contributed significantly to the first complete edition of the composer’s work, the Bach‑Gesellschaft-Ausgabe. Their documented part in disseminating Bach’s music in Italy in the 1760s inspires the content and topography of this most cultivated of recitals.
Luca Gugliemi – not to be confused with another fine Italian Bach organist, Lorenzo Ghielmi – is the critical element in the jigsaw, and not just because he offers a consistently probing clarity in his articulation and colouring, binding these strikingly diverse musical styles. More crucial is how the narrative of the Martini ‘exhibition’ unfolds with such grace and ardour: fascination lies in hearing sources of non-organ works, such as the febrile harpsichord Fantasia chromatica reimagined in the delectable bloom of Chiesa di Nicolao as well as the hauntingly softpaletted C minor Fantasia, alongside preludes of intimate subtlety and range.
Indeed, Gugliemi’s scope is harnessed to the astutely characterised and moderate scale of the musical works, especially projecting the contemplative within the so-called ‘Organ Mass’, the Clavierübung III of 1739. There are some exceedingly sweet registration changes, none more so than in the ubiquitous Jesu, meine Freude (from the quartet of works just before), at 3’23”. Gugliemi captures the imagination throughout while also celebrating those unheralded cognoscenti in the years immediately after Bach’s death, and before post-Mendelssohn venerating. A finely chiselled and innovative project, warmly recommended. Jonathan Freeman‑Attwood
JS Bach Canonic Variations on ‘Vom Himmel hoch da komm’ ich her’, BWV769. Fantasia, BWV572. Partite diverse sopra il chorale ‘O Gott, du frommer Gott’, BWV767. Pastorale, BWV590. Preludes and Fugues – BWV535; BWV548. Toccata and Fugue, BWV565 Masaaki Suzuki org BIS F Í BIS2111 (79’ • DDD/DSD) Played on the Schnitger/Hinz organ of the Martinikerk, Groningen, Netherlands
Of all the current doyens of modern Bach performance, Masaaki Suzuki knows no limits to his explorations. This is a dazzling recital (from a musician better known as a director-harpsichordist) discerningly assembled and held aloft by three great pillars: the ubiquitous Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV565; the Pièce d’orgue, BWV572, with Bach whisking the French 17th century from under its own nose; and, to conclude, the great Prelude and Fugue in E minor, BWV548 (the Wedge). If one’s reflexive default at the prospect of an organ recording – even an exquisitely curated Bach one – is one of dispassionate or nonchalant resistance, this recording is as likely to turn ears as any made.
Along the way, in a deftly balanced presentation of strikingly contrasting essays, Suzuki offers beautifully turned, reflective and buoyant readings of sui generis ‘concert’ works. The Pastorale, with its exquisite musette-like opening, whose subsequent C major movement trips along in a manner organists seem universally reluctant to pursue, is simply a pearl. Each of the four movements is sweetly devotional in nature, skilfully preparing the way for the highly distilled and contemplative variations on the chorale ‘O Gott, du frommer Gott’. The seasoned reflective qualities of Suzuki, heard to such memorable effect in his complete cantatas series, are reawakened in the stunningly voiced combinations of sounds from the Schnitger/Hinz in the Martinikerk in Groningen – one of Holland’s finest Baroque organs, restored to its former glory by Jürgen Ahrend during the 1970s and ’80s.
Unusual here, also, is how an emphatically non-organ-playing reviewer can effortlessly alight on the kinds of malleable Bachian conceits enjoyed habitually in the composer’s concertos, keyboard suites and vocal works. Great instrument aside, this is largely down to the judicious alchemy of Suzuki’s perception of how architecture and local colour can collide to mesmerising effect. The Fugue from the above-mentioned D minor is a case in point: the glistening parallel motion over the pedal at 3’20”, often a bloated gesture, enticingly holds back to set up the rich-textured gravitas that follows. Inexorable momentum here is born of fervent authority, a virtuosity of combined effects without gratuitous excess.
The Canonic Variations on ‘Vom Himmel hoch’, written late in Bach’s life as a condition of membership of Lorenz Mitzler’s Corresponding Society of the Musical Sciences (hence the work’s proliferation of contrapuntal wizardry), can often leave the listener cold. Perhaps not surprisingly, Stravinsky was beguiled by the possibility of its intertwining lines in his inventive homage of 1956, with its supra-polyphonic interpolations. Suzuki’s performance will persuade you that Bach’s unsurpassed technique never obfuscates
4 GRAMOPHONE AWARDS 2016