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Helmut WALCHA (1907-1991)
Chorale Preludes - Volume 4 (1979)
Full tracklist at end.
Delbert Disselhorst (organ)
rec. First Presbyterian Church, Springfield, Illinois, 9-10 October 2012.
NAXOS 8.572913 [57:36]

Were Helmut Walcha's name not so well-known as a performer-advocate of Johann Sebastian Bach, the inattentive listener dipping in randomly to these discs could almost be forgiven for assuming him to be some neglected contemporary of the great composer. Walcha's four volumes of Chorale Preludes, all have which have now been released by Naxos in quick succession, pay homage to the composer whose music he spent a life studying and performing. Though many of the harmonies reflect their twentieth-century genesis and Walcha's early familiarity with Max Reger, in form and especially spirit these recitals are very much from a long bygone era. That is true as much of Walcha's fourth book of 1979 as it is of the first from a quarter of a century earlier.
 
From the beginning these works have been used for pedagogic purposes, and that should perhaps be borne in mind by anyone considering buying one, and especially all, of these CDs. Only the doughtiest of organophiles will be able to sit through four volumes - nearly a hundred preludes - in one day, let alone one sitting. Given the overall uniformity of form and expression within these pieces - very short, sober, moderately-paced, reflective - there is definitely an argument to be made for the acquisition of only one volume: any would do equally well. However, for those with more time and money, it must be added that Walcha's apparent simplicity of conception disguises a creative mind of uncommon clarity of expression which reveals itself more readily over extended periods of listening.
 
The four volumes have been shared by Delbert Disselhorst (nos. 3 & 4) and Wolfgang Rübsam (nos. 1 & 2) (see summary review of previous discs). Both Disselhorst and Rübsam are erstwhile pupils of Walcha, which gives their interpretations a further stamp of authority and authenticity. Whilst Rübsam has made countless CDs for Naxos, volume 3 was Disselhorst's debut, but with a CV as long as a trombone stop, there is no question of inferiority in the second pair of recitals. All volumes have been recorded on the John Brombaugh Organ at the First Presbyterian Church in Springfield, Illinois. The instrument is barely a decade old and thus benefits from modern technology, giving a satisfyingly rounded tone in a sympathetic acoustic which has been very well captured by the engineers, final-chord evanescences included. Rudolf Zuiderveld's notes from volume one are used throughout the series, but justifiably so, as they are interesting and well written. The booklet also includes a detailed description of the Brombaugh, and a colour photo of it in all its glory.
 
Walcha's final word as far as chorale preludes are concerned is, aptly, a Postludium in C. The disc itself is a fine conclusion to a highly likeable cycle. Walcha can be seen from a different perspective, even more impressive, in the many recordings of J S Bach he made, not least those brought together in the splendidly remastered 12-disc boxed set available from Archiv Produktion (463712).
 
Byzantion
Contact at artmusicreviews.co.uk
 
Tracklist
No.1. Allein zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ [2:30]
No.2. Erstanden ist der heilig Christ [1:40]
No.3. Der Herr ist mein getreuer Hirt [2:48]
No.4. Schmückt das Fest mit Maien [2:00]
No.5. Wenn mein Sünd mich kranken [3:55]
No.6. Der Tag bricht an und zeiget sich [1:51]
No.7. Herzlich lieb hab ich dich, o Herr [3:09]
No.8. Herr Jesu, deine Angst und Pein [2:18]
No.9. Die helle Sonn leucht' jetzt herfür [1:44]
No.10. Christe, du Beistand deiner Kreuzgemeine [2:22]
No.11. Bis hierher hat mich Gott gebracht [3:10]
No.12. Ich weiss, mein Gott, dass all mein Tun [2:34]
No.13. Christe, der du bist Tag und Licht [2:24]
No.14. Wo Gott der Herr nicht bei uns hält [2:15]
No.15. Werde munter, mein Gemüte [3:07]
No.16. O Gott, du frommer Gott [3:19]
No.17. Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan [2:31]
No.18. Befiehl du deine Wege [3:34]
No.19. Lobet den Herren alle, die ihn ehren [3:29]
No.20. Postludium in C [6:37] 

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