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Helmut WALCHA (1907-1991)
Chorale Preludes 1
see end of review for track listing
Wolfgang Rubsam (organ)
rec. 23-24 October 2011, First Presbyterian Church, Springfield, Illinois, USA
NAXOS 8.572910 [67:01]

Experience Classicsonline

Helmut Walcha is one of those figures that one hears of whilst growing up as an organist. He was one of a select number who still hold international recognition. Walcha, who was blind from the age of 19, is better known for his recordings of the complete organ works of J.S. Bach which he did once in mono and once in stereo in the 1940s and 1950s. LPs of these recordings are often available in good charity shops but the stereo recording has since been released as a 12 CD box-set (Universal Classics). His compositions are much less well known and include four volumes of chorale preludes, which became popular teaching pieces. There are also orchestral transcriptions for the organ. The performer on this disc, Wolfgang Rubsam, was a student of Walcha and has had a very busy career as Professor of Organ at Northwestern University in Illinois and “over a hundred highly acclaimed recordings”.
One of the first things that a prospective purchaser may notice, whilst browsing in their local classical CD shop, is the description of Rubsam’s interpretations as “uniquely authoritative”. Whilst this is rather a dangerous claim in this culture of “historical performance practice”, it is true that Rubsam is quite likely to be familiar with his teacher’s interpretative style. The chorale prelude is a very expressive compositional tool which Rubsam is able to convey. The quieter chorales such as Mit Ernst, O Menschenkinder are expressively managed and the balance of the organ is spot-on. The louder and more virtuosic pieces Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott and O Heiland, reiss die Himmel auf display the instrument’s full power. The latter of these two deploys the principal chorus of this versatile instrument and creates an “authentic” sounding German timbre. Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott shows the organ’s more Atlantic tendencies with a very powerful pedal reed dominating the texture. The sound is exciting but not “authentic”.
Occasionally the rhythmic freedom that the performer uses feels slightly overdone. This is partly due to very small gaps between tracks which mean the pieces rather flow into each other as they wouldn’t in a live performance. However, Rubsam’s definite and personal articulation, most prominently displayed in Ist Gott fur mich, so trete, makes this recording equally about the compositions as about the performer.
Overall, these varied pieces are skilfully crafted and artfully performed on a versatile and aurally pleasant instrument.
Hannah Parry-Ridout 

Track listing
No. 1 Nun Komm, der Heiden Heiland [2:09]
No. 2 O Heiland, reiss die Himmel auf [1:41]
No. 3 Macht hoch die Tur [2:25]
No. 4 Mit Ernst, o Menschenkinder [3:16]
No. 5 Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ [2:09]
No. 6 Den die Hirten lobten sehre [1:39]
No. 7.Froehlich soll mein Herze springen [1:14]
No. 8.Zu Bethlehem geboren [1:34]
No. 9.Weicht ihr Berge, fallt ihr Hugel [1:36]
No. 10. Herzliebster Jesu, was hast du verbrochen [3:14]
No. 11. Erhalt uns, Herr, bei deinem Wort [3:34]
No. 12. Herr, nun selbst den Wagen halt [1:48]
No. 13. Ach Gott, vom Himmel sieh darein [3:21]
No. 14. Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott [2:41]
No. 15. Ach blein bei uns, Herr Jesu Christ [2:03]
No. 16. Nun freut euch, lieben Christen g'mein [2:17]
No. 17. Es ist das Heil uns kommen her [2:29]
No. 18. Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ [3:59]
No. 19. Ist Gott fur mich, so trete [2:31]
No. 20. Wer nur den lieben Gott lasst walten [3:22]
No. 21. Mitten wir im Leben sind [3:16]
No. 22. Wer weiss, wie nahe mir mein Ende [3:39]
No. 23. Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin [3:35]
No. 24. Nun sich der Tag geendet hat [2:02]
No. 25. Morgenglanz der Ewigkeit [3:19]

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