When I was doing some research about organist Daniel Chorzempa I was amazed to learn that he is an American, born in Minnesota and educated at the University of Minnesota. I'd known his recordings from years ago and had always assumed he was European, and indeed I believe he has been based in Europe since the late 1960s. He also studied in Cologne, primarily as a pianist and began his career as a pianist first and foremost. He even recorded the Well-Tempered Clavier on harpsichord. But it is as a virtuoso organist that he is best known. (He is also a composer of electronic music, none of which I've ever heard.)
This CD from PentaTone was recorded originally in 1970, not long after he'd made his official debut as an organist. (His organ recitals are notable for being played from memory.) The performances were taken down in the then-new quadraphonic system and released on Philips LPs. But of course quadraphonic LPs were a less than ideal carrier for the four-channel sound on the tapes. Fortunately PentaTone, a company founded by ex-Philips personnel, has been reissuing quad recordings on SACDs remastered from those tapes and they sound spectacularly lifelike. They are, of course, in four-channel sound, not the five channels that the modern SACD system is capable of.
The program here comprises some of the young Bach's most popular works: the inevitable Toccata and Fugue in D Minor (albeit there is still a scholarly debate about whether the work is actually by Bach -- frankly he gets my vote, but then I'm not a musicologist), the Passacaglia in C Minor, and the Preludes and Fugues in D, BWV 532, and in A Minor, BWV 543. The Bach works are played on a 1534 organ considerably updated by the great Dutch organ builder, D. A. Flentrop, in 1968, located in Our Lady's Church, Breda, Holland.
The program ends with a performance of Liszt's Variations on Bach's Cantata 'Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen' S179. It is played on a different organ, built anew in 1968 by Flentrop for the Rotterdam concert hall 'De Doelen.'
The playing is virtuosic, to say the least. The Toccata and Fugue performance makes the most of the work's flash and pizzazz without overstepping the bounds of good taste. The Passacaglia is played with a fair amount of restraint. My only complaint about its performance is that Chorzempa emphasizes the passacaglia bass line rather more than I like. Still, it's a worthy performance overall. The same virtuosic restraint is characteristic of the two Preludes and Fugues, except for the Fugue in D which is breathtakingly exciting especially in its pedalwork. As for the Liszt Variations I cannot be a good judge of the performance largely because I've never cottoned to the piece which strikes me as containing some of the worst excesses of Romantic organ writing. It is not helpful that Chorzempa uses a bit more tremolo in his reed-dominated registrations than I am comfortable with.
But for marvelous playing overall, and for spectacular sound of demonstration quality for all its being 35 years old, this SACD is worth its price.