September 2005

Liszt - Prelude and Fugue on B-A-C-H; Prelude on Bach’s Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen; Variations on Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen; Three pieces after Bach; Bach - Passacaglia and Fugue in C Minor
Michael Schöenheit, organ
MDG 906 1334-6
Format: Hybrid Multichannel SACD
Released: 2005

by Rad Bennett

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality *****
Overall Enjoyment ****

In 1851, the publication of Bach's complete works commenced in the composer's German homeland. This event had a profound effect on many musicians. Franz Liszt had already shown interest in the baroque master by performing the works that he knew about. Discovery of still more Bach compositions inspired Liszt to write his own impressions of the composer he considered, in 1851, as "the greatest musician Germany has produced."

Bach’s music served as a departure point for Liszt’s own compositions. Liszt would take an idea from Bach and then expand it in his chromatic and romantic style. His works were written specifically for the organ that they are played on here, the Ladegast organ at Merseburg Cathedral. Its restoration was completed in 2004, after a misguided effort to update it in the 1960s destroyed its character and tonal integrity. It sounds wonderful now, and the magnificent instrument, as skillfully played by Michael Schönheit, sounds just right for this music. Schöenheit takes broad tempos to allow for the long reverberation time of the cathedral and extracts every ounce of lyrical substance from each work. His playing of the famous Bach Passacaglia is romantic, but that seems fine given its context in this mostly 19th-century program.

MDG has recorded this performance in the most realistic way imaginable. In multichannel playback, the listener can feel the air "alive" all around him. The decay after the big chords cut off is most impressive in its realism. The bass is solid, the upper registers sweet; the overall sound has great presence without a trace of harshness. It is a virtually perfect recording job, a feat we have come to expect regularly from MDG.