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Bach Family - Complete Organ Music
Stefano Molardi, Luca Scandali, Filippo Turri (organ)
rec. 2013-18
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 95803 [24 CDs : 28 hrs 14 minutes]

Being an avid collector of the complete organ works of J.S Bach, I've amassed around 15 cycles over the years. The added attraction of this collection is the focus on the Bach Family. Not only are we presented with the work of J.S Bach, but also with music by the lesser known family members who, for the most part, have been somewhat neglected on disc. Stefano Molardi performs the lion’s share of the contents, with Luca Scandali assigned the C.P.E Bach, and Filippo Turri taking on W.F Bach. I’m pleased that several different organs have been used, adding a variety of timbres, resonances and acoustics. The organs listed are: Trost (1730-55), Waltershausen; Silbermann (1750-55), Dresden Hofkirche; Hildebrandt (1726-28), Sangerhausen; Thielemann (1731), Gräfenhain, Dell’Orto and Lanzini (2007 and 2003), a chest organ by Patella (1998), Zanin (2007), and Volckland (1732-37), Erfurt.

Although there are plentiful examples in the catalogue of complete cycles of the organ works of J.S. Bach, Stefano Molardi’s survey can proudly hold its head up high in distinguished company. I’ve enjoyed it very much and found it immensely satisfying. He has wisely opted for German instruments from the composer’s day, adding an authentic imprimatur to the project. The four organs chosen are by Trost (CDs 1-4), Silbermann (CDs 5-8), Hildebrandt (CDs 9-11) and Thielemann (CDs 12-15). The Trost, housed in the Stadtkirche ‘Zur Gotteshilfe’ in Waltershausen, I like the least. Dating from 1755, it underwent extensive restoration in 1998. Unfortunately, in quieter episodes, its noisy action can, at times, prove irritating. A couple of examples are in Christe, du Lamm Gottes BWV619 from the Orgelbüchlein and the Lento from the Trio Sonata in G, BWV530.

The most impressive, to my ears, is the Silberman organ of the Katholische Hofkirche, Dresden. Its magnificence and splendour are captured in the spectacular Prelude and Fugue in E minor BWV548, and Molardi’s resourceful rendering of the Prelude in A minor, BWV569. Other highlights include a well-integrated performance of the Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C, BWV564 and an exquisitely thoughtful account of the Fantasia from the Fantasia and Fugue in C minor, BWV537, played on the Hildebrandt organ of the Jacobikirche, Sangerhausen. For the Thieleman organ in the Dreifaltigkeitskirche in Gräfenhain, sample the fine selection of Neumeister Chorales. In Molardi’s hands they’re the very models of elegance and refinement.

Carl Philipp Emanuel was J.S. Bach's most gifted son. He wasn’t an organist, and accompanied his employer Frederick the Great on the harpsichord. As a consequence his organ compositions are not many in number. What we do have is music of remarkable individuality. His first four organ sonatas, written in 1755, were for manuals only. They were tailor-made for Anna Amalia, Princess of Prussia, who couldn’t play the pedals. The music could be termed eccentric and quirky, and Luca Scandali adeptly steers the music through all its tortuous twists and turns with virtuoso skill and compelling musicality. He’s blessed with a fine-sounding instrument in the 2007 Dell’Orto and Lanzini instrument.

Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, the eldest son of Johann Sebastian and his wife Maria Barbara, established a reputation as one of Germany's greatest organists. He was described by Robert Hill as “a genius who was unable to fit into the career paths available in his time”. In other words, he never reached his full potential as a composer. Added to this, he was alcoholic and difficult in his dealings with others. The main bulk of CDs 20 and 21 consist of fugues and, in this respect, I found this family member’s music the least interesting. Nevertheless, Filippo Turri’s readings are cleanly articulated and expressive. Turri performs on two instruments, a Zanin (2007) on CD 21 in a larger, more resonant acoustic. The smaller chest organ by Patella (1998), utilized on CD 20, has an intimate and homely feel to it, which wins hands down for me, providing greater clarity in the contrapuntal lines.

Not much has survived from the least known members of the Bach dynasty, and their output is restricted to five CDs (CD 18-19 and 22-24). I’m familiar with none of them, yet my first encounter leaves me impressed by the high quality of the music. Three of the group were of the generation preceding J.S. Bach and, generally, composed in a more uncomplicated style, not venturing into harmonic complexity or elaborate polyphony. Examples are the two Fantasia and Fugues by Johann Ernst Bach, which usher in CDs 18 and 19. They have a more scaled-down feel than their titles seem to suggest. The less intricate fugues have a distinctive clarity. The Dell’Orto e Lanzini organ’s intimate character seems to serve this music well.

Other early Bach composers are the brothers Johann Christoph and Johann Michael, uncles to Johann Sebastian; Johann Christoph played an important part in his nephew's education. Both were active for a time in Thuringia and were nurtured in the school of Johann Pachelbel. In fact, their style is very much influenced by Pachelbel. Johann Christoph’s Prelude and Fugue in E flat opens with a prelude of majestic proportions, showcasing the burnished splendour of the Volckland organ in Erfurt. Johann Michael provides an attractive and varied set of brief chorale preludes, each enhanced by Molardi’s imaginative registrations.

Brilliant Classics have amalgamated four previously released sets into this desirable and comprehensive package. The collection provides a fascinating insight into the vast contribution the Bach family made to the organ repertoire. Potential purchasers will make many new discoveries along the way. In fact, for me, it’s opened up a whole new vista. With excellent presentation, superb recording quality and profound artful musicianship, this is a set no organ fancier will want to be without.

Stephen Greenbank

Previous review: Stuart Sillitoe
Discs 1 – 15
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Stefano Molardi (organ)
T.H.G. Trost Organ, Stadtkirche ‘Zur Gotteshilfe’, Waltershausen, Thuringia, Germany, 2013
G. Silbermann Organ, Katholische Hofkirche, Dresden, Germany, 2013
Zacharias Hildebrandt organ, St. Jacobikirche, Sangerhausen, Germany, 2013
J. G. Thielemann organ of the Dreifaltigkeitskirche, Grafenhain, Thuringia, Germany, 2013
Discs 16 – 17
Carl Philipp Emanuel BACH (1714-1788)
Luca Scandali (organ)
Dell’Orto e Lanzini organ, Chiesa di Sta Maria Assunta, Vigliano Biellese, Italy 2013
Discs 18 – 19
Johann Ernst BACH (II) (1722-1777)
Johann Bernhard BACH (I) (1676-1749)
Johann Lorenz BACH (1695-1773)
Johann Friedrich BACH (I) (1682-1730)
Heinrich BACH (1615-1692)
Works where attribution is uncertain
Stefano Molardi (organ)
Dell’Orto e Lanzini organ, Chiesa Parrocchial di S Tomaso, Gresso di Zola Predosa, Bologna, Italy, April 2018
Discs 20 – 21
Wilhelm Friedemann BACH (1710-1784)
Filippo Turri (organ)
L. Patella Chest Organ, Abbazia di Santa Maria delle Carceri, Carceri (Padua), Italy, 3rd April 2017
F. Zanin Organ, Chiesa di Sant’Antonio Abate, Padua, Italy, 9th April 2017
Discs 22 – 24
Johann Christoph BACH (I) (1642-1703)
Johann Michael BACH (I) (1648-1694)
Stefano Molardi (organ)
F. Volckland Organ, Cruciskirche, Erfurt, Germany, September 2016

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