J.S. Bach: Organ Works Complete

By Hildreth, James | The American Organist, July 2007 | Go to article overview
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J.S. Bach: Organ Works Complete


Hildreth, James, The American Organist


J.S. BACH: ORGAN WORKS COMPLETE. George Ritchie, organist. Raven OAR-875 (11 CDs). $49.95 (available from RavenCD. com and from the Organ Historical Society). What a pleasure it has been to listen to George Ritchie's Bach! Recorded between 1992 and 2004, the works are grouped into six volumes, each but the first containing two CDs. Each volume is centered on a particular theme or group of works, having been previously available individually. As such, they have already received well-deserved high acclaim worldwide. They are as follows: Vol. I (Raven OAR-250): German Virtuosity and Italian Elegance, played on the 11/52 Fritts-Richards Opus 3 (1984) of St. Alphonsus Parish Church, Seattle, Wash.; Vol. II (OAR-300): Leipzig Mastery, played on the 111/53 Taylor & Boody Opus 19 (1992) of Christ Church Cathedral, Indianapolis, and the IV/81 Taylor & Boody (1985) at the College of the Holy Cross, Worcester, Mass.; Vol. Ill (OAR-400): For Music Lovers and Connoisseurs, played on the IV/109 Anton Heiller Memorial Organ (John Brombaugh) (1981-86) at the Church of Seventh-day Adventists, Southern Adventist University, Collegedale, Tenn.; Vol. IV (OAR-470): Foreign Influences, played on the 11/35 Noack (1995) at Christ the King Evangelical Lutheran Church, Houston, Tex., and the 11/47 Yokota (1984-90) at California State University, Chico; Vol. V (OAR-580): Orgelbilchlein Plus, played on the 111/83 Gottfried and Mary Fuchs Organ (Paul Fritts) (1995-98) in Lagerquist Concert Hall, Pacific Lutheran University, Tacoma, Wash.; and Vol. VI (OAR-740): Youthful Brilliance, played on the 111/75 Pasi Opus 14 (2003) at St. Cecilia Cathedral, Omaha, Nebr., and the IV/92 Fisk Opus 78 (1979) at House of Hope Presbyterian Church, St. Paul, Minn.

As the foregoing attests, Dr. Ritchie has chosen some outstanding examples of American organbuilding in historical styles for this formidable and eminently successful survey of these inimitable works. He is abetted by his colleague, George Stauffer, with whom he co-authored the book, Organ Technique: Modem and Early (Oxford University Press), and who has provided six excellent essays about the composer, the music, and the historical contexts in which the works were created. Each volume also provides information on the instruments, and the specific registrations used for each work.

It is not possible to discuss every detail of these recordings in this limited space, although they surely deserve it. Suffice it to say that this can be considered a premier integral recording of the Bach organ works. While the performances may be considered to be textbook examples of Bach playing according to current scholarship, they go far beyond pedantry. George Ritchie turns in benchmark performances that are consistently at the highest level of musicianship, artistry, attention to contemporary and historical scholarship, intelligence, imagination, sensitivity to text relationships, phrasing, registration, and other details, high virtuosity, and exquisite elegance. His skillful use of "articulate legato" is given many and varied applications, according to the style and context of each work. A few details are discussed below.

Dr. Ritchie employs a variety of plenum registrations, some based on the 32' series (Prelude in E Minor, BWV 548, Fantasy in G Minor, BWV 542, Toccata in D Minor, BWV 565, Kyrie, BWV 671, Magnificat Fugue, BWV 733) and others on the 16' series (many examples).

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