April 2006

Bach - Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, BWV 565; Passacaglia in C Minor, BWV 582; Prelude and Fugue in D, BWV 532; Prelude and Fugue in A Minor, BWV 543; Liszt - Variations on Bach’s Cantata "Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen"
Daniel Chorzempa, organ
PentaTone 5186 140
Format: Hybrid Multichannel SACD
Original Recording Released: 1971
Reissue Released: 2005

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

Arp-Schnitger-Orgel Norden
(Music by Weckmann, Byrd, Buxtehude, J. S. Bach, Schlick, Scheidt, Böhm, Arauxo)
Agnes Luchterhandt and Thiemo Janssen, organ
MDG 906 1363
Format: Hybrid Multichannel SACD
Released: 2006

Musical Performance ***1/2
Recording Quality *****
Overall Enjoyment ****

by Rad Bennett

Recording "the king of instruments" has always proved a challenge that recording engineers are eager to accept. The frequency range of the instrument is enormous. Before Dolby Digital movies, organ recordings were the chief reason to purchase a subwoofer. The two discs here are exemplary of state-of-the-art recording in two different decades -- in fact, two different centuries.

The Chorzempa recording dates from the early 1970s, the dawn of the quad era. The artist plays with verve and vigor. Though he plays correctly, his interpretations of Bach seem more showman than scholar. This approach generates a bigger-than-life, ultra-dramatic version of the famous D minor Toccata. The 4.0 recording nails down a lot of reverberation in the rear channels, yet the uncanny engineering job allows all of the space of a very large church to be heard without muddying what’s going on up front. It is hard to believe that this recording was originally released over 30 years ago.

Werner Dabringhaus has made organ recordings a specialty of his MDG audiophile label, and his recording of the famous Arp-Schnitger organ in Norden is a knockout. Due to the placement of the ranks of pipes, there is more channel separation on this recording than usual. The space seems smaller than that on the PentaTone release, and exceptionally crisp and clean. The octave doublings during the famous pedal passages in the Bach Toccata are astonishingly clear, and such delightful details as the bird imitation stop in the Buxtehude "Canzona" are wonderful to hear. The performances are the opposite of Chorzempa’s, more academic, yet never staid.

Either of these discs would be good demonstration material for a properly balanced surround system.