For those unfamiliar with Lionel Rogg's superlative Bach cycle done in Zürich in the early 'sixties, this set may well prove entirely satisfactory; the reviews here suggest it does and I would not wish my opinions to spoil others' enjoyment of these recordings but I'm bound to say I'm disappointed that this present set is nothing like the original.
The earlier recordings were made using the modern Metzler instrument in the Großmünster and were very widely acclaimed at the time; indeed, they were regarded as being closer to "definitive" than any other set then extant. I continue to regard these extraordinarily fine performances in the same light but playing my collection of very tired LPs has to be rationed. In my judgment the later offering is bland and uninspired, both in performance and choice of registrations - it conveys the impression that Lionel Rogg has "been there, done that" which, of course, he has but it doesn't have to be so obvious. Quality of recording is a little inconsistent and never above average.
Furthermore, an instrument for this programme more appropriate than the organ at Arlesheim might have been chosen; the fact that it is a Silbermann is no guarantee of suitability in respect of Bach performances. This one is by Johann Silbermann, nephew of the great Gottfried Silbermann who built glorious instruments in the North German tradition; a tradition with which Bach's writing indissolubly is joined but the works of brother Andreas Silbermann were couched in a markedly French idiom. His organs, generally, are very fine - the larger of his instruments in Freiburg Cathedral being a good example - but his sons who carried on the business continued in his strong Alsatian bias evident at Arlesheim. As is characteristic of so many Silbermann instruments, this one is lacking in the pedal division.
Sadly, there is no established "Bach organ" specification - we can only conjecture (and, I think, fairly accurately) what this might have been from the instruments of builders like Hildebrandt, Trost and Wender but regardless of speculation, the Arlesheim Silbermann is not even on the short list.
If this review seems a little sour, it is because I fail to understand why Rogg/Harmonia Mundi, after some forty five years of "hibernation", wasted an opportunity to transfer what was a brilliantly performed, superbly recorded and universally acclaimed product to CD. By comparison, the present offering is very mediocre and I no longer have it in my library.
Of the Bach recordings currently available, I would recommend those by Walcha, Fagius or Ritchie. These recordings, particularly the George Ritchie set which benefits from outstanding audio quality and instruments superbly suited to the task - just listen to the Paul Fritts at the Pacific Lutheran University to hear what I mean - are choices preferred to this Harmonia Mundi lack-lustre collection.