on 18 August 2001
This is a very well-done digital remastering of the landmark recording by Helmut Walcha of J.S.Bach's organ works. Walcha (incurably blind since childhood, and a stupendous musician nevertheless) was one of the first to argue that Bach should be played on Baroque organs, rather than "bombastic" Romantic instruments. The instruments used are Baroque in registration and sound, but all in modern tuning rather than choir tuning (a semitone or more up from A-440): listeners with absolute pitch will be most grateful for this. It's less "complete" than some other collections (e.g. Chapuis) in that it excludes works which later editions of BWV and modern scholarship consider to be of dubious authorship: most notably a number of short pieces often given to beginning-intermediate organ students in response to their pleas for studying some Bach. One regrettable omission is the Toccata and Fugue in E major BWV566. Four chorale partitas (BWV 766, 767, 770, and 771) which are either very youthful works or inauthentic have also been omitted. In contrast, the set includes Walcha's own organ arragement of The Art of Fugue, including Walcha's attempt at completing the final fugue. Many have tried their hand at reconstructing the inimitable, and none have wholly succeeded: Walcha wisely recorded the original truncated version as well. Finally, a performance note: registrations are tastefully restrained, and while "authentic performance practice" purists may object to some aspects of Walcha's playing (including a playing that is more rubato than generally accepted nowadays), the performances are invariably musical to the bone.
on 2 March 2009
Having heard snippets of this great work and the stories of Helmut's prodigious talents I just had to buy this set and hear for myself exactly what all the hype was about this man. I was totally blown away by his stewardship of this music. His choice of stops remarkable. The speed and dexterity of consummate skill. This set lifted Bach's organ works to new levels. I have many recordings of the organ works by many different musicians, but this one is my favorite - in particular the Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor - what a treat this set is!! Buy this, it is a remarkable work one which I do not think will be out done. I still get goosebumps listening to it. The man is a genius.
on 30 November 2005
Musical taste is an intensely personal thing. Equally there are absolutes even in such a field which supersede the purely subjective. This recording is in that category. These are powerful and moving accounts of extraordinary music. Twelve discs which speak directly to the soul. This is music which I discovered as a 16 year old and which has remained a source of inspiration for almost 25 years. The fact that Walcha was blind is not strictly relevant; it merely underlines the artist's achievement.
Now, whether this set is better than Peter Hurford's for Decca, I don't know. I have enjoyed Walcha's set so much (on LP, tape and now this box set) that I have put off and put off buying the Hurford set, but I am hoping to get it for Christmas. It will not be in the expectation of a better interpretation but simply a different interpretation of this magnificent music.
on 11 December 2005
This set is very incomplete and many of Bach's little gems are not included, especially among his early compositions. Some of the decisions seem strange: Why no bwv 549, when the earlier 551 appears?
Even more puzzling is the exclusion of the 'Kirnberger' and other miscellaneous chorales, although a few do find a place, other of equal or superior value do not. The Orgelbuchlein (not a favourite work of mine) is played with great delicacy. The mighty 18 Leipzig chorales are generally polished although
Walcha's performance of the glorious Allein Gott (bwv 662) strikes me as somewhat of an artistic failure, the lyrical flow of the melody impeded by over-emphatic fussiness about the accompaniment. Clavierubung elicits from Walcha a powerful reasing, although the reverbation of say, bwv 684 tends to muddy the fluidity of his playing.
As far as the big pieces go, Walcha is generally very convincing with a lot of dark intensity in the minor key masterworks. His performace of the curious f minor bwv 534 is as convincing as any I've heard.
There is also a lot of rhymical energy in Walcha's playing which is noticable in, say, the youthful bwv 531 and the trio sonatas.
One of Walcha's questionable stylistic attributes is the now anachronistic sounding use of rallentandos (slowing down) at the end of certain sections. Fortunate he is more sparing with this than some of his contemporaries, but it remains a slight annoyance.
on 21 February 2015
I have a very similar 10 LP set, bought in the early 70s so it was a delight to find I could get it all on CD instead of having to crank up my turntable. Just a bit odd that the titles in the book with the CD set do not always tally with the titles on the CD, but it's not a showstopper.
on 1 February 2015
I can now appreciate why Helmut Walcha is described as the absolute master in interpreting Bach's Organ works.
Please, DON'T be put off by the age of these stereo recordings - which start from the dawn of stereo; 1959* until 1971, (and please be aware when purchasing, that Walcha had recorded an earlier, post-WW2, 1940's-1950's set for DG - in mono only. This is available too, but features a slightly different cover photo.) You want the "Collectors Edition" shown here.
I do not know how DG sound engineers have achieved such a spectacular, modern-sounding remastering of ALL* these ADD recordings; but their 'sound-stage', even in today's digital age, remains full, wide, dynamic and rich: each organ voice & manual is clearly delineated.
One last point: most comprehensive notes are provided in the 'Archiv' booklet which accompanies this set: the 2 Baroque organs Walcha used, the various classifications of Bach's organ works, and last, an extensive chronicle of both composer - and performer. Then add the entire 12 CD set ..for approx. £30+?!! A "win-win" situation: fetch out your wallet..