Notes and Editorial Reviews
21ST CENTURY BACH—THE COMPLETE ORGAN WORKS
John Scott Whiteley (org)
SIGNUM VISION 3 (DVD: 182:00)
Preludes and Fugues: in b,
class="ARIAL12"> BWV 525.
Vater unser im Himmelreich. Wo sol lich fliehen hin? Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme. Wer nur den lieben Gott lässt walten. Alle Menschen müssen sterben. Ach wie nichtig, ach wie flüctig. In dich hab ich gehoffet, Herr. Von Gott will ich nicht lassen. Christ lag in Todesbanden. Jesus Christus, unser Heiland. Erstanden ist der heil’ge Christ. Erschienen ist der herrliche Tag. Von Gott will ich nicht lassen. Allein Gott in der Höh sei Her. Sei gegrüsset Jesu gütig
Interview with Harvard professor Christoph Wolff
Most orchestral and instrumental DVDs I’ve had occasion to review have struck me as being a poor use of what is, and could be, an imaginative and instructional medium. And that is why I found myself quite impressed by this Signum Vision production, because it is the exception to the rule. Granted, there is some campy horror at the very beginning, with a colony of bees swarming over a statue of Bach, and organist John Scott Whiteley walking slowly down the nave of the Abteikirche wearing dark shades and looking every bit the character in a Mafia mob movie. I was half expecting him to draw a gun or be gunned down before he reached the organ loft. But once we’re past this bit of theatrical stage-setting, the DVD gets down to serious business.
The main menu is set up in such a way that you can choose the program you wish to access either by organ—i.e., the Johann Philipp & Johann Heinrich Stumm instrument at Amorbach’s Abteikirche or the Heinrich Gottfried Trost instrument at Walterschausen’s Stadtkirche—or by all of the pieces as they are ordered on the disc. There is also a third option on the main menu: to play the interview with Professor Christoph Wolff.
If you select the option to play the disc by organ, a subsequent screen displays a track listing of all the works on the disc that are performed on that organ, allowing you to choose which one of them you wish to play. Unfortunately, one of the inconveniences of the “play by organ” mode is that you can only choose one work at a time. In this mode, credits are rolled at the end of the piece, and the disc returns you to the track listing so that you must take action to play the next piece if you wish to continue. Moreover, in the “play by organ” mode, selecting the track you wish to play is not the only decision you must make; for once having clicked on the track title, a subsequent screen presents and prompts you to make additional selections, depending on the track you’ve chosen. Some, for example, will ask you to choose between a stereo version, a surround-sound version, and a version with commentary. Others, specifically those from the
and the 18 Chorales offer you the choice of a stereo version, a surround-sound version, the chorale with the text in English, or the chorale with the text in German.
In the “play all” mode, the prompting is limited to whether you want the stereo or the surround-sound version. The voice-over commentary in this mode is not an option, and the disc plays all the tracks continuously without user intervention, dispensing with the between-the-numbers rolling of credits.
If you don’t mind listening to the voice-over commentary offered on some of the tracks in the “play by organ mode”—which is of course optional, and not a feature on every track anyway—the narrations recorded by Whiteley himself are quite informative. The bonus feature in which Whiteley interviews Harvard professor Christoph Wolff is also quite interesting. Wolff is not only a musicologist, but also an expert on historical keyboard instruments. His knowledge of period organs—their design, registration, and even the significance of the artwork that adorns their casework and pipe ranks—is extensive; and it’s the discussion of organ building in Bach’s time, rather than of the composer’s organ works themselves, that makes the interview so absorbing.
This DVD may not be perfect in its utilization of the technology, but at least it makes a serious effort to offer something above and beyond the simple filming of a concert or recital event. And for that I give credit to all those involved in the making of it. If I haven’t addressed Whiteley’s performances, it’s not because his playing is anything less than technically accomplished or interpretively satisfying, it’s because the purpose of this disc strikes me as being in equal measure as educational as it is musical. The detailed booklet provides full specifications on the organs, and the highly intelligent essay text remains intelligible to the reader not versed in the more arcane aspects of musical analysis. Strongly recommended.
FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
Works on This Recording
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