This great collection of music composed specifically for the
organ is one of Bach’s finest achievements. The collection is framed by a
magnificent Prelude and Fugue and Stephen Farr sets a magisterial tone at
the outset in the huge openingPraeludium, which combines French
overture and Italian concerto style.
In the ensuing group of chorale settings in contrapuntal style, Stephen Farr
treats us to a wide variety of imaginative colouring which is both
attractive in itself and which also enhances the structure of the music and
at the same time allows us to hear the individual parts with great clarity.
Some of these pieces are in lighter vein, giving the listener a little
respite from the complexity of the first few pieces. Although Bach had been
criticised for his use of old-fashioned compositional techniques, we can
hear him dabbling with the newer and more tuneful style galant,
albeit in a tentative way. Bach can rarely allow his intellect a moment’s
The beauty of Farr’s playing can be readily discerned in BWV 678, a piece of
seeming simplicity but with ever increasing counterpoint around the main
theme, and this is followed by the bouncily played BWV 679, vividly
contrasting in registration. BWV 686 is one of the most contrapuntally
complex pieces in the collection. Stephen Farr gives a magnificent
performance with great clarity in the part writing but he also builds this
famous work to a glorious and emotionally exhausting climax.
The final group of four duets almost give a feeling of light-heartedness
after so much complex counterpoint. But things are not so simple and there
is always an undercurrent of mystery as well as unexpected twists of harmony
and chromaticism. Farr as always gives first class performances.
Unlike Clavier-Übung IV and the Goldberg Variations, these
pieces were probably not intended to be heard continuously in sequence.
However you would not know this from Stephen Farr’s performance. Due to his
in-depth understanding of this great music he presents us with a performance
that is totally satisfying as a complete structure. He achieves this with
well chosen tempi, and use of well-contrasted registrations and colouring.
This is the most enjoyable performance of Bach’s Clavier-Übung I can
ever remember hearing. It is magnificently recorded and Stephen Farr makes
full use of the colours available from the Metzler Organ of Trinity College,
Cambridge. All in all this is a must-buy recording and one I shall return to
again and again.
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