Fanfare

What Chopin was to the piano, Bach was to the organ. The many sides of the composer can be seen in the many genres that his organ works inhabit, from the more modest, but no less impressive, chorale preludes to the grandiose preludes and figures and the mighty C-Minor Passacaglia. David Hamilton, playing on the organ at Canongate Kirk in Edinburgh, Scotland, has chosen a very fine cross section of the organ works to display not only the many sides of the composer, but also the many capabilities of the chosen instrument as well. He is a very fine advocate for this music. The smaller works are played simply, but not without emotion.

Hamilton’s tempos are spot-on, and the tender way he shapes the lines- sometimes ornamenting them slightly- gives one the impression of hearing the pieces for the first time. The Passacaglia, in particular, is well paced. The constant flowing of its theme is never compromised, nor compromising in its relentlessness, but rather gains in grandeur as the piece unfolds. The Pièce d’Orgue is perhaps the best performance on the entire chordal section, where the dissonances are somewhat startling. Hamilton gives just enough weight and time for the dissonances to be made palpable before moving on effectively to the concluding section, which is reminiscent of the opening in spirit and figuration. The ending is once again simple and unadorned, but heartfelt. The Toccata’s prelude is given the effect of real improvisation, so unfettered and free is it in its movement. It is at times playful, at times serious. This leads to the more dramatic and potent Adagio. It is never so slow as to lose its momentum, yet never so quick as to make it sound frivolous. The fugue that ends the work begins it in a slightly introverted manner-something that works particularly well here, as it allows the organist to build up to the immense climax at the end.

The so-called “St Anne” Prelude and Fugue ends the recital. It is given a grand reading, with enough lift and breath to characterize its many facets. All in all, Hamilton proves to be a very fine guide, one who highlights the intricacies of these works, often illuminating them in new ways. For a truly enjoyable experience of some great Bach organ works, this recording is as wonderful for novices as for experts.

—Scott Noriega