J.S. Bach

01/04/2002
Bruce Steele
Organo Pleno (Australia)

This, the fourth recording, arrived just in time for inclusion in this review and proved well worth the wait. Some readers will already have heard parts of it as the ABC's recent 'CD of the Week' - surely a first for an organ CD.

On the back cover of the booklet accompanying this 2-CD set are the Delphic utterances of two great organists - Widor and Bach: 'To play the organ properly, one must have a vision of Eternity' and 'There is nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right notes at the right time and the instrument plays itself'. How infuriatingly true, you may reflect. But this, the latest in John O'Donnell's recordings of the Bach's organ works, simply and eloquently demonstrates those two truths. The Leipzig Chorales of the title are popularly known as 'The (Great) Eighteen'. In this performance they are flanked by the great Toccata in C and the Passacaglia in C minor. Included before the final chorale Vor deinen Thron is the set of canonic variations on Vom Himmel hoch (BWV 769a). The recording, the seamless editing, the spaces between items, the lavish, informative 32-page booklet (in three languages) with Mirka Mora's 'Mother and Child' on the cover, these are simply first-rate, and place Melba Recordings among the very best in the world - better in fact than many who would claim that position.

This is a musical experience to be treasured. It is evident that John O'Donnell has studied, played and thought long and deeply about this music along with the puzzles and problems associated with it. All this, along with his intimate association with the Ahrend organ, gives to the recording a powerful sense of the music, the performer and the instrument being as one. There is a deep inevitability about it. One is not conscious of technique, performance or display: one is drawn directly into the world of Bach's organ music. 'This is the quintessential Bach,' writes O'Donnell, 'Bach at the instrument he loved above all others, and understood to perfection...' The program is designed to show Bach the Virtuoso (in the Toccata), Bach the Lutheran, meditating on the hymns of his faith, and finally Bach the supreme Architect in the Passacaglia.