Bach: Clavierübung III
John O'Donnell - organ
$38 (Australian dollars)
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|In this special Bach anniversary year, Tall Poppies presents the first of two offerings of his work. Clavierübung III is regarded by many as the pinnacle of Bach's work for organ. John O'Donnell is an internationally respected performer and Bach scholar, and he gives scintillating performances in this recording, made on the Jürgen Ahrend organ at Monash Univesity's Blackwood Hall. This is a beautiful baroque organ with many stunning combinations of colour and intensity. This is only the second commercial recording to have been made on this instrument in the nearly 20 years of it's existence.|
A 2-CD set.
|J. S. Bach||Clavierübung III|
|2000 has proved to be an excellent year for early music on record, and especially for Bach. The competition for a personal ‘Disc of the Year’ has been intense, and it is with regret that I put aside two outstanding recordings of Renaissance music (Jordi Savall’s Morales Requiem on Astrée and Capilla Flamencas’ A-La-Mi-Re Manuscripts on Naxos) in favour of a new Australian set comprising the organ works Bach published towards the end of his life: the third part of the Clavierubung , the Canonic Variations and the Schübler Chorales. The performers it the organist and scholar John O’Donnell, and the merit of these discs is that every aspect is spot on.|
O’Donnell is the organist of Monash University in Melnbourne, which possesses a fine 45-stop Ahrend organ dating from 1980; it is tuned in a modified Werckmeister II temperament His performances are quite superb: powerful, energetic and crisp, and the listener is carried along by his infectious rhythmic sense. O’Donnell sets ideal tempos, and his careful and precise articulation doubtless owes something to his extensive experience of the harpsichord; the ‘fughetta sper Dies sind die heil’gen zehn Gebot’ is bright and punchy, which the trio ‘Jesus Christus unser’ ticks along delightfully. O’Donnell has given careful thought to the registration sequence, building up through the pedaliter Kyries to an impressive climax, and in the shorter manualiter pieces the counterpoint is conveyed with great clarity. He contributes is own detailed and scholarly booklet notes; the recording is very fine indeed, setting the seal on an exceptional release.
International Record Review
In early eighteenth-century Germany music publication was an expensive process with no guarantee of profit (Telemann, an astute businessman, was probably the most successful at this). Publication was often, therefore, intended for the purposes of prestige, or to impress an actual or hoped-for patron, rather than financial gain. Bach's three organ publications - the third part of the Clavier-Übung or 'Keyboard Practice', the Canonic Variations and the Schübler Chorales - date from late in his career (1739 and 1748), and are all thoroughly worked and polished sets designed to lay the best of his art before his organist colleagues. John O'Donnell has sensibly gathered them together on this pair of discs, making an attractive programme.
Three-quarters of the discs are taken up with the so-called German Organ Mass, a fascinating and varied work that is much more attractive than its austere title would suggest. It is framed by the large-scale Prelude and Fugue in E flat (popularly known as the 'St Anne' on grounds of resemblance to the hymn tune of that name), encompassing settings of the Kyrie and Gloria (the Lutheran 'Missa brevis') and chorales related to the Catechism. Nearly all the chorales are set twice, with a shorter, simpler composition for manuals only following each main setting. The Four Duets appended to the set are contrapuntally involved two-part works, again without pedals, with unusual chromaticisms and part-writing.
John O'Donnell is organist of Monash University in Melbourne, which possesses a fine 45-stop Ahrend organ of 1980; it is tuned in a modified Werckmeister II temperament. It makes a grand noise, though without having the overwhelming tonal majesty to be found in some European Baroque organs. But that is not to say that it falls any way short in a piece like the massive six-part 'Aus tiefer Not', with its double pedal line, or the wonderful tripartite fugue (reflecting the all-pervasive Trinitarian symbolism here) that ends the Clavier-Übung III collection. O'Donnell's performances are quite superb: powerful, energetic and crisp, the listener is carried along by his infectious rhythmic sense. He sets ideal tempos, and his careful and precise articulation (something over which organists often take far too little care) doubtless owes something to his extensive experience of the harpsichord: the 'Fughetta: Dies sind die heil'gen zehn Gebot' is bright and punchy, while the trio 'Jesus Christus unser' ticks along delightfully. The six well-known Schübler Chorales are also excellent.
O'Donnell has also given careful thought to the registration sequence, building up through the pedaliter Kyries to an impressive climax - the various stops used (always with real imagination) are detailed in the booklet. In the shorter manualiter pieces the counterpoint is conveyed with great clarity. He evidently has big hands, as he manages to solo the treble cantus firmus in the four-part setting of 'Kyrie, Gott Vater in Ewigkeit'.
As befits a well-known scholar of early keyboard music (he has written on the French Overture style and Bach, and edited the keyboard music of Kerll and Pachelbel), O'Donnell contributes his own detailed and scholarly booklet notes, which cover the historical and liturgical background, and issues of organ registration, numerology and symbolism. The recording is very fine indeed, but catches a slight 'tizz' from the uppermost mixtures.
This is one of the very best recordings of the Clavier-Übung III set, and one that surpasses the recordings by established masters such as Ton Koopman and Christopher Herrick. I find myself preferring it to any other version I have heard.
© International Record Review 2001
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