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Customer Review

on 31 January 2011
This, from September 1956 - on the Schnitger organ of St Laurenskerk, Alkmaar - was DG's first stereo recording and, up to a point, it shows. Helmut Walcha's approach to 'The Art of Fugue' uses the clarity and variety of colour offered by that instrument as well as the organ's inherent sustaining power to convey Bach's polyphony. On CD the microphones seem closer than became Archiv's habit in Alkmaar so the building gets less of a say than one might hope to hear at a live recital, but at least the 'drier' sound helps Walcha to articulate some of the jauntier contrapuncti, such as numbers 15, 16 and 17, without exaggeration or disrupting the tempo. (Some listeners have found a counterpart here to Glenn Gould's preferred piano sound, close and clear at all costs.)

Within a day of finishing the 'Art of Fugue' recordings DG started work on Walcha's stereo survey of Bach's organ works and the first group of sessions almost inevitably included 'the' D minor Toccata and Fugue (BWV 565): these recordings are included on the second CD of this set. They share the close sound but even the two didactic Trio Sonatas invite Walcha to give a more extravert performance than the fastidious documentary approach which he adopts towards 'The Art of Fugue'. The later stages of the fugue in BWV 565 give much of the same whirling, semi-improvisatory impression that he produced in his mono 1947 recording, and there is a growing processional grandeur as Walcha drives the C major Prelude and Fugue, BWV 547, towards its conclusion.

With the original LPs came a lavishly produced booklet in three languages containing, amongst other material, an extract from Erich Schwebsch's rather fulsome essay 'Spirit and Sound'. The absence of this from the CDs' documentation is not much of a loss, but Heinrich Husmann on the musicological problems, the notes about Wolfgang Graeser's work on 'The Art of Fugue' and the quotation from Graeser's 1924 essay might usefully have been retained for the CD liner although Martin Elste's new piece on both the music and the significance of this recording is clear and helpful. Sadly the commentary by Walcha himself 'About my Interpretation' with notated examples from most of the fugues has also been discarded.
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