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GRAMOPHONE (December / 2017)
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Reviewer: Jonathan Freeman‑Attwood

When in the foothills of a grand Bach project, selection of works can have a significant bearing on the balance and shape of subsequent volumes. Both Masaaki Suzuki and Robert Quinney have embarked on their exceptionally promising voyages with some uncannily similar choices of repertoire, already front-ending many of the highways rather than byways of the oeuvre. Half of Quinney’s Vol 4 here has appeared in one or other of Suzuki’s two volumes to date, providing an enriching alternative perspective for those who sense that here we have two Bach organists intent on projecting this music well beyond the world of the aficionado.  

If Suzuki, especially in Vol 1 (BIS, 10/15 – Vol 2 is full of wonders but the tuning of the Garnier organ in Kobe is not always an easy fit), brings an experienced orchestral palate to the boundary-busting E minor Prelude and Fugue, then Quinney offers a clarity of thought that builds into just as effective momentum, with less epic abandon but with a tighter grip on the hierarchy of ideas. The prelude begins with a striking rhythmic thrust, though the fugue is a more incremental affair, even deliberately didactic at the start. There is quiet nobility at its heart, if not Suzuki’s emotional risk.  

In his excellent notes, Quinney talks of the problems of tracing the chronology ‘because [Bach] so promiscuously combines styles and genres’. This observation could also be an emblem for Quinney’s illuminating characterisation of Bach’s fine concerto transcription of Vivaldi’s Op 3 No 11, projecting the whim and spirit of the perpetrator but skilfully nourished by the rigours of Bach’s treatment. The same is true of the chorale-based works, which are all a complete joy. The organ of Trinity College, Cambridge, offers colour, intimacy and the odd quirk, allowing the organist to explore rhetorical and abstract possibilities with delectation.  

The variations – or partita – on ‘Sei gegrüsset’ are where Quinney’s multireferencing to Bach’s promiscuity really reaps its rewards in what is one of the most convincing, invigorating and subtle accounts of this masterpiece on record. Marvel at the balance of voices, and the resulting luminosity of passing notes and dissonance. This is another exceptional Bach recital – and, crucially, for all-comers.  

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