Bought this more for the sound of works I know well being played on this particular organ, than for the performer/interpretation of the work. I wasn't disappointed. The organ has a wonderfully rich and warm sound, and the slight reverberation within the church adds to the atmosphere..
Masaaki Suzuki's new CD of Bach organ music had the rare distinction for an organ recital of being named the Gramophone CD of the month. In his review of the recording, Jonathan Freeman-Attwood lavished praise on the music and performance. Freeman-Attwood wrote:
"Of all the current doyens of modern Bach performance, Masaaki Suzuki knows no limits to his explorations. This is a dazzling recital (from a musician better known as a director-harpsichordist) discerningly assembled and held aloft by three great pillars: the ubiquitous Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV565; the Pièce d’orgue, BWV572, with Bach whisking the French 17th century from under its own nose; and, to conclude, the great Prelude and Fugue in E minor, BWV548 (the Wedge). If one’s reflexive default at the prospect of an organ recording – even an exquisitely curated Bach one – is one of dispassionate or nonchalant resistance, this recording is as likely to turn ears as any made"
Suzuki (b. 1954) is an extraordinary musician and an extraordinary performer of Bach. He is perhaps best-known for his 55 CDs of Bach's complete sacred cantatas with the Bach Collegium Japan which he founded in 1990. Suzuki and the Bach Collegium are currently recording Bach's secular cantatas. Suzuki founded the early music department at the Tokyo University of the Arts and currently teaches at the School of Sacred Music of Yale University. In addition to his work as a conductor, Suzuki is renowned as a harpsichordist and as an organist.
Suzuki performs this Bach recital on the historic Schnitger/Hinz organ in Martin's Church, Grotigen, the Netherlands. The organ dates from the late 17th Century and was restored from 1976 -- 1984. It has a large, spacious and yet lyrical sound. The recording brings out the sound to a full extent; it is a hybrid disk which may be played both on CD or SACD players. I listened to it on the former.
The recital includes seven varied Bach organ works. The program opens with perhaps the most famous work of organ music by any composer, the Toccata and Fugue in D minor. Even those who know little about the organ or about Bach love this music. Suzuki plays this large work in a lyrical, flowing way. The performance is dramatic, but its appeal lies more in its flow and musicality than in sheer volume of sound.
The other grand work on this CD is the final track, the Prelude and Fugue in E Minor, BWV 548. This is a dramatic, almost orchestral large-scale work, with the fugue the longest Bach ever composed for solo organ. Suzuki gives an angular, broad scaled performance of this masterwork. The Gramophone reviewer aptly finds "an underlying immediacy and restlessness in Suzuki's rhetoric which leads to thrillingly choppy waters in the Fugue."
I agree with the Gramophone reviewer that the third major attraction of this recital is the Fantasia in G major, BWV572. This work is written in three sections, with a focus on the lengthy dramatic middle movement. It is written throughout in the style of French organ music, unlike, for example, Bach's French Suites which have little to do with French style.
The CD also includes a highly complex series of canonic variations on "Vom Himmel hoch da komm ich her", BWV 769 which Bach wrote in gaining admission to a society exploring the relationship between philosophy and music. While the piece can be heard and simply enjoyed, it bristles with musical complexity and with religious symbolism which are explained in Albert Clement's liner notes. There is another set of chorale variations on the hymn, "O Gott, du frommer Gott", a lovely four-movement Pastorale, BWV 590, and a youthful Prelude and Fugue in G minor, BWV 535.
In addition to Albert Clement's discussion of each work, the CD includes the full texts that Bach used for his variations in BWV 769 and BWV 536. It is helpful to see how Bach adapted his chorale settings to the words of the hymns. This is a wonderful CD for those who love Bach, even for listeners who lack familiarity with his large body of work for the organ. The recording is on the BIS label and distributed by Naxos. Naxos kindly sent me a review copy.