Bach Organ Works v3 Farao B108110

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Organ Works – Volume 3
Peter Kofler (organ)
rec. 2022-2023, Rieger organ of the Jesuit church St. Michael in Munich
Farao Classics B108121 [6 CDs: 421]

With Volume 3, Italian-born organist and harpsichordist Peter Kofler completes his traversal of the organ music of J S Bach begun back in 2017. I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing the two previous volumes, which can be found here: Vol 1 ~ Vol 2 . Unlike competing cycles, Kofler has chosen to record all three volumes on a single instrument, namely the four-manual Rieger organ of the Jesuit Church of St. Michael’s in Munich. It makes a lot of sense really as he has been organist at St. Michaels since August 2008, so is intimately familiar with the instrument.

For the more technically minded, it’s worth quoting Martin Fisher, the recording’s producer, who kindly added this information to my review of Volume 1: “This is the first ever organ recording using high-resolution Auro-3D technology, a consequent advancement from earlier surround formats like 5.1, 7.1 or 2+2+2. Thus the space of the church interior is authentically reproduced not only in its horizontal dimensions, but also in its vertical acoustics, its special height. A sound experience that provides fascinating transparency even on a conventional stereo CD. Various high-resolution multichannel formats are available for download on the website”.

I have to say, the sound quality is spectacular. The sonorous acoustic of the Munich venue gives a welcome sense of space, allowing the listener to savour the striking qualities of this marvellous instrument at its best. Kofler’s imaginative choice of registrations is another positive feature, ideally showcasing both the music and the instrument. A full specification of the organ is provided at the rear of the booklet.

Here are some of the highlights of the set. The Fantasia and Fugue in G minor BWV 542 opens bold and dramatic. Kofler chooses a brilliantly lit registration for the Fugue, which not only offers an element of contrasting mood, but allows the intricate counterpoint to emerge with clarity and definition. This present volume, as do the previous two, features a selection of Neumeister Chorales. These were only discovered at Yale in the early 1980’s. The manuscript was compiled by Johann Gottfried Neumeister in the last decade of the 18th century. Of the eighty-two pieces, thirty eight are attributed to Bach. They are considered to date from the composer’s early years. Noted mainly for their simplicity, many can be performed without pedals. Kofler’s imaginative colourful registration choices paints these glorious works in the best possible light.

I’ve always enjoyed the composer’s Trio Sonatas, especially in the organ guise. Two are included in this set, the C minor and my particular favourite the G major. The latter has two lively outer movements, performed with joyous abandon, whilst the central Lento is beautifully contoured with a flute stop. The Prelude and Fugue in E major, BWV 566 has a majestic Prelude preceding a whimsical Fugue, is deftly handled. With the Prelude in A minor, BWV 569 we are in august company. The same can be said for the Prelude in C minor BWV546, whose Fugue, unfortunately, as always seemed to me a little four-square.

In the interesting liner that accompanies this set, Kofler explains how he formulated his cycle, carefully mapping out each of the discs, so each contains a varied programme. The final CD contains the chorale arrangement “Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr” (All glory be to God on high) and ends with the Prelude and Fugue in D major, BWV 532, both works which embody ”the very essence of joy and gratitude”. A fitting ending to a magnificent project.

Stephen Greenbank

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CD 1
Präludium und Fuge BWV 533
Fantasie und Fuge BWV 542
Orgelbüchlein 618-624
Choralpartiten BWV 770, Anh. 78
Fantasie BWV 1121 | Fuge BWV 574
Neumeister Choräle BWV 1098-1100

CD 2
Präludien und Fugen BWV 546, 551, 544
Präludium BWV 569
Achtzehn Leipziger Choräle BWV 656, 665, 666, 653
Choralfantasie BWV 1128 | Fuge BWV Anh. 97

CD 3
Präludien und Fugen BWV 566, 545b
Aria BWV 587
Orgelbüchlein BWV 613-617
Triosonate BWV 530
Kirnberger Choräle und andere Choräle BWV 721, 724, 697, 703, 698, 733, 700, 701, 710, 694

CD 4
Präludium und Fuge BWV 534
Passacaglia BWV 582
Neumeister Choräle BWV 714, 742, 1101-1103, 737, 1104-1111
Triosonate BWV 526

CD 5
Fantasie und Fuge BWV 562
Toccata und Fuge BWV 538
Kirnberger Choräle und andere Choräle BWV 709, 726, 727, 712, 713, 728, 706, 732, 734, 1085, 735, 691, 690, 736
Concerto BWV 593

CD 6
Fantasie und Fuge BWV 561
Präludium und Fuge BWV 532
Achtzehn Leipziger Choräle BWV 662-664, 655, 668
Choral BWV 725 | Fugen BWV 578, 131a