“The Bach Project: Volume 1” = BACH: Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C Major; An Wasserflüssen Babylon; Trio Sonata No. 1 in E-Flat Major; Prelude and Fugue in A Minor; Partite Diverse Sopra Il Corale Sei Gegrüsset, Jesu Gütig; Passacaglia in C Minor – Todd Fickley, organ – MSR Classics

“The Bach Project: Volume 1” = BACH: Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C Major, BWV 564; An Wasserflüssen Babylon, BWV 653; Trio Sonata No. 1 in E-Flat Major, BWV 525; Prelude and Fugue in A Minor, BWV 543; Partite Diverse Sopra Il Corale Sei Gegrüsset, Jesu Gütig, BWV 768; Passacaglia in C Minor, BWV 582 – Todd Fickley, organ – MSR Classics MS 1561, 75:10 [Distr. by Albany] *****:

For those interested in the theory and mechanics behind this album, I highly suggest checking out https://www.hauptwerk.com/. Mr. Fickley has decided to make use of this new technology as the basis for what appears to be the first volume of a complete collection of the organ works of J.S. Bach. Judging from this effort, we have something really exciting to look forward to.

Of course, I would have preferred if MSR had embraced another technological marvel, surround sound, for this series as it would become something of a milestone if that was indeed the case. Even so, their typically warm and resonant sound serves this “fake” organ quite well. Why do I say “fake”? Actually that term is rather pejorative, though there are some who will think it quite appropriate. But what Hauptwerk technology does is to capture the essence of the sound of individual instruments and plug them into a data bank which is accessed by the application. This allows any organ to be ”mined” by a keyboard which then “plays” the organ or instrument in question. It is called “virtual organ software.” Hauptwerk allows for great flexibility in the way it records the sound of each and every pipe from a variety of standpoints, velocity of key attack, release, etc. In this case it is the Schnitger Organ from St. Michael’s Church in Zwolle, the Netherlands, a type of organ that Bach would have been very familiar with.

Fickley, born in Washington DC, and very active in a huge manner of roles in that area and elsewhere, has as his goal to record these works using a different Hauptwerk-recorded organ each time, allowing for enormous flexibility in choice. And why not? Bach has been so twisted and turned inside out over the years, and often with great success, that this sort of advance should be welcomed by all. I guess one could still question as to how thoroughly any organ’s essential characteristics are captured in the process, but from the sound of this disc the results are quite superb.

None of this would matter at all if Fickley did not display such a fine grasp of style and performance, granting us the privilege of hearing Bach sans sanitization, energetic, colorful, and replete with excellent articulation and highly-charged emotion. This is going to be a series to anticipate with high expectation.

—Steven Ritter

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