Organ Master Series Volume 4
In this 2-CD set, Dame Gillian Weir performs on the "Bach Organ" of the Thomaskirche, Leipzig, where Bach was in charge of music for the last 27 years of his life. This four-manual 61 stop organ was installed in the year 2000 in time for events commemorating 250 years since Bach's death, and is based on designs by J.S.Bach's uncle. The celebrations during that year included major work on the church, which is now an internationally recognized historic building by the World Monuments Fund. Over 31 DM were raised from many sources, and a portion of those funds were made available to build an organ to authentically perform Bach's organ works. Resident organist Ulrich Böhme spearheaded efforts to see the dream of having a proper instrument for Bach built, and the contract for this was awarded to organbuilder Gerald Woehl of Marburg, Germany. Gillian Weir was one of the organists to perform a celebratory recital for the new instrument in November of 2000, and is the first non-resident organist to record on this historic instrument.
“This fine set is a double celebration in offering a first recording of the 18 Chorale Preludes, which Bach composed in the early 1740s, using the magnificent new organ installed in the Thomaskirche for the Millennium. Bach's own organ no longer exists - and in any case Bach was not fond of it: he preferred the organ in the Paulinerkirche, and it is appropriate that the case of the new instrument is based on that instrument, and the facade shows Bach's insignia, including his initials. The new Gerald Woehl organ has 61 stops and a magnificent range of colour which Gillian Weir exploits to the full (many of her registrations are captivating; others show the organ's dramatic power), and she is very gentle in the final sublime chorale, Vol deinem Thron tret ich hiermet, the first part of which Bach supposedly dictated from his deathbed. She then goes on to play a selection of miscellaneous works to display the organ's full range, from the brilliant filigree of the Arnstadt Fantasia in C minor and the charm of the Trio Sonata to the full power of BWV 540 and 544. The recording is first class, completely worthy of the occasion, and the documentation excellent.” Penguin Guide to CDs & DVDs, 2005/6 Edition
“If one were predisposed to herald this recording, it would be understood. An eminent artist, a new instrument patterned after a Bach-preferred organ of his time, the venue his own parish church- what more could one wish? Yet it surpasses all. Dame Gillian is a force to be reckoned with at the console. Every nuance, every sparkle, every tone is there, right where it should be, all recorded knowledgeably by Priory... this is mastery at work.” The American Organist, March 2006
“Virtuoso playing from Weir delivers ecstasy and serenity in equal measure... mention should also be made of Weir's excellent insert-notes where scholarship and the communicative skills of a great musician are together in perfect harmony.” Christopher Nickol, Gramophone, June 2005
“Gillian Weir's Bach series, consummation of a world-class musician's recorded legacy, continues with this release recorded in Leipzig, where her characteristic clarity, wit and elegance are partnered by the excellent and much-heralded ‘Bach’ organ at St Thomas's.” William Whitehead, BBC Music Magazine, April 2005
“The fourth volume of Priory's Gillian Weir Organ Master Series is most welcome and follows the lead of volume 3 in that it is 2CDs of music by J S Bach. What better instrument to play it on other than the splendid new Bach organ in Thomaskiche Leipzig. The organ is based on what is thought to be a specification favoured by Bach - a 60-stop, four-manual organ he witnessed being installed in Georgenkirche in Eisenach when he was a boy (the organ being designed by his uncle Johann Christoph Bach). It includes many of his favourite colours, such as the Violdagamba 8' and Fagot 16', and two 32's. The case is based on the 1717 Scheibe organ examined by Bach in the Pauli University Church in Leipzig. The programme presents the chorales in order, thus the first CD is taken up with Nos 1-13 and 14-18 on the second, followed by the bigger works in the order they appear above, culminating in a terrifylingly splendid performance of the F major Toccata and Fugue.
At the outset I have to say the the whole CD merits a 'must-have' label. The playing is unerringly musical and never less than interesting and enjoyable. Each voice remains completely independent; carefully phrased yet not at all precious, mannered or over-decorated, but perfectly transparent allowing this music all the air it needs to do what it does best - communicate with the soul. Registrations are clear, incisive and perfectly balanced, full of colour and show off the wonderful voicing of the instrument. The recording too is well-balanced demonstrating the organ's sound within the building rather than the Querstand Böhme recording which shows more clearly the organ before the building. The downside of this approach is reflected in a little less of the pedal fundamental in the balance and some occasional loss of detail, particularly apparent on the opening Fantasia super Komm heiliger Geist, BWV651.
The notes, written by the organist herself, eschew the usual dry essay, but instead the introductory note is more thoughtful, and the notes on the music give the text and translation of the first verse and musical description - the whole release is clearly a labour of love to Dr Weir.
It would be churlish to describe the performances in detail, neither would space permit, but to draw attention to a couple: the Trio Sonata is sublime; the chromaticism of BWV666 is quite colossal with these choruses seeming to fill every iota of space in the building; the sparking Trio BWV655; the B minor Fugue which unfolds with unrelenting pace and sense of inevitability... where to stop?! Hearing this set at the same time as Böhme (a not inconsiderable organist himself) on the same organ, shows why Dame Gillian Weir stands head and shoulders above most other organists; the sheer musicality is overwhelming.
This pair of CDs is not to dip into, but rather to play and enjoy, or play and study, or just play and wonder!” Adrian Richards, Organists' Review, February 2005
“Outstanding performances of the Eighteen Leipzig chorales... this fourth volume in her Organ Master Series from Priory will, I'm sure, become one of the jewels in the series' crown. Outstanding.” The Organ, February 2005
Priory Records(external link) PRCD 800 AB