The Frobenius organ at Canongate Kirk was dedicated in 1998, and its modestly dimensioned 2-manual plus pedal offers well-balanced tonal potential for the early repertoire, as is demonstrated here by David Hamilton, organist at Strathclyde University and lecturer at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama.
This selection of eight of Bach’s organ works includes four very well known large-scale works and four chorale preludes of which two are not frequently heard. The disc opens with Wachet auf (BWV645), the tenor solo being given out on the Great trumpet, which is clear without being strident, and which does not overshadow the accompanying right hand ritornello and pedal bass. A lively pace is adopted, but clarity of phrasing is maintained throughout.
This is followed by the Passacaglia (BWV582), in which Hamilton offers varied registrations throughout, which suits the character of the unfolding sequence of variations on the ostinato; the fugue receives an effective steady treatment. The highly chromatic Erbarme dich (BWV721), played here in a manualiter setting, is taken at a leisurely pace, without the repeated left hand chordal writing sounding labored, and the choice of quiet string registers addes to the penitential mood.
In the Pièce d’Orgue (BWV572), it is the gravement , the lengthy middle section, which stands out, and David Hamilton captures the appropriate French style through his ornamentation, with the occasional subtle application of notes inégales . After the opening movement’s transparently bright registration for the continuous single-note line, the use of the manual principal plenum over the pedal with its basun 16ft. arrests the attention, before the final movement of another single-note line over a descending pedal bass reverts to a quieter registration. O Mensch, bewein ein Sünde gross (BWV622) is played spaciously, but without losing the feel for the regular pulse, and the highly florid and frequently chromatic solo line is well phrased, the trills in particular being well integrated into the melodic line.
In the Toccata, Adagio and Fugue (BWV564), after a quiet introduction, we hear David’s virtuosity in the pedal solo, in which the reed is again utilized; the reappearance of manuals leads to a reduction in registers. The Adagio , with its solo floating above the accompaniment leads into a short Grave section; its highly dissonant suspensions are emphasized through the increased registration. The fugue is played quietly throughout, but David chooses to repeat some of the Toccata to form a da capo , which does not work for this reviewer.
From the Clavierübung, Hamilton has chosen the longer setting of Dies sind die heil’gen zehn Gebot (BWV678), The solo line of two voices in canon is played on the oboe against two voices in the right hand and a steady pedal line; the balance between the parts is effective. The CD concludes with a sterling interpretation of the Prelude and Fugue in E flat (BWV552) which, through well –balanced registrations and articulation, captures both the profundity and the playfulness of this popular work.
The CD booklet contains a brief description of the pieces, the organ and the performer, whose attention to detail and nuance, especially in the ornamentation, makes listening most enjoyable. The tempi are frequently brisk, and the registration is in several pieces rather quieter than in other interpretations, but the acoustic allows this approach to succeed. The disc offers excellent value, and is one to which I shall return.
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