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JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH - The Organ Toccatas - Christoph Schoener (Organ) - Organs of St. Michaelis, Hamburg - 760623189369 - Released: April 2015 - MDG 9491893-6

1} Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565
2} Toccata in E, BWV 566
3} Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C, BWV 564
4} Allein Gott in der Höh' sei Ehr, BWV 662
5} Toccata and Fugue in F, BWV 540
6} Erbarm dich mein, o Herre Gott, BWV 721
7} Toccata and Fugue in D minor (Dorian), BWV 538

Amid the never ending list of available recordings of Bach's organ works, it's nice to see a new SACD being released that brings all of his brilliant Toccatas together on one disc. These works, which capture a snapshot of Bach letting his hair down, showcase the essence of the composer at his best. Highly spirited music, brimming with expressive freedom bordering on the ecstatic. Organist Christoph Schoener certainly perceives these elements within the music and delivers up-tempo, animated and exuberant readings of all the pieces that call for it. The highlight for me on this disc is the account of the Toccata in F, BWV 540. A brilliant work, even by Bach's standards, with outstanding harmonic development throughout, underpinned by solid and long-sustained pedal notes upon which Bach constructed cathedrals of sound. For this work in particular, Christoph Schoener plays on the Great Organ to full effect. Those long pedal notes, solid and true, combined with the flurry of notes rushing high above, generate a sound that can only be compared to the sound you might hear, or rather feel, sitting in the belly of a military Hercules Transport plane in full flight. And at the other end of the spectrum, this same instrument's flute stops produce a beautiful sound in the captivating Adagio in C, BWV 564.

Opulent room effect was also a motivating idea behind the recently completed restoration of the organs. The powerful "Grand Organ" in the west with eighty-six stops on five manuals of course forms the focus. The "Concert Organ" on the south loft contributes romantic color, and thanks to musical providence an unusually richly endowed "Echo Organ" that can be operated as an entirely independent organ from the central playing unit could be installed in the higher regions. The "Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach Organ" has a special appeal; with its unequal temperament it naturally is used only as a solitaire on the north loft. (MDG)

The only quibble I have with this recording has to do with the acoustics inside this large building and the spatial layout of these multiple organs. The reverberation is a bit on the long side, which sometimes creates a slight muddled effect within some of the faster and highly contrapuntal passages. Perhaps a different microphone setup may have helped mitigate this problem, but then you would lose the sense of scope usually associated with these large church buildings. A slight quibble on my part, which should not take away from the enjoyable aspects of this new MDG recording of Bach's masterworks.

Jean-Yves Duperron - May 2015