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Bach: Toccatas / Leon Berben

Bach,J.s. / Berben
Release Date: 02/09/2010 
Label:  Ramee   Catalog #: 903   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Léon Berben
Number of Discs: 1 
In Stock: Usually ships in 24 hours.  

Notes and Editorial Reviews



BACH Toccatas and Fugues for Organ: in d, BWV 565; in d, BWV 538; in F, BWV 540. Toccata, Adagio, and Fugue in C, BWV 564. Preludes and Fugues for Organ: in D, BWV 532; in E, BWV 566. Toccatas for Harpsichord: in g, BWV 915; in c, Read more class="ARIAL12">BWV 911; in d, BWV 913; in D, BWV 912; in f?, BWV 910; in G, BWV 916; in e, BWV 914; in A, BWV Anh III/178. Toccata in G, BWV 916 (Adagio only) Léon Berben (org, hpd) RAMÉE 0903 (2 CDs: 153:15)


Here is a fine collection containing half a dozen of Bach’s popular organ works on one disc and his seven harpsichord toccatas, plus a couple of addenda, on a second disc. The organ is the Van Hagerbeer/Schnitger in Alkmaar, an instrument built in 1646 and refurbished in 1725. The harpsichord is a modern instrument built by Keith Hill after a 1728 model by Christian Zell of Hamburg.


Keyboard artist Léon Berben was born in 1970 in Heerlen, the Netherlands, and currently resides in Cologne. He earned his diploma in organ and harpsichord in Amsterdam and The Hague, studying with Gustav Leonhardt and Ton Koopman, among others. From 2000 to 2006, when the ensemble disbanded, Berben was the harpsichordist for Reinhard Goebel’s Musica Antiqua Köln. Since then, he has pursued a solo career and recorded a number of albums for various labels, among which are a complete Well-Tempered Clavier and harpsichord partitas available on Brilliant Classics.


Most readers, it’s assumed, have one or more discs of Bach’s top-10 organ hits in their collections, so I’m not going to dwell overlong on the first disc in this set. If you’re looking for an orgiastic organ blowout, this is probably not it. The Van Hagerbeer/Schnitger is not an instrument likely to rattle the rafters with the wind shear of its pipes or separate your floor from its foundations with the harmonic vibrations of its bass pedals. But then it’s doubtful that the organs Bach would have known and played on in his lifetime would have possessed such capabilities, either. There is, however, a clarity and crispness to this instrument and a vocal quality to its tone that bring out the singing melodies in these works, and the decay time of the Saint Laurens Church in Alkmaar, where the recording was made in May 2008, is just enough to lend a sense of the space without adding any mushy hangover or reverberation. Berben offers some apt but never intrusive ornamentation and his choice of registrations and stops strikes me as perfectly suited to the pieces he’s playing.


Ever since a college professor I had for a counterpoint course did a bit of a vaudevillian number for us on Bach’s C-Minor Harpsichord Toccata, BWV 911, to prove a point, I think it has been my favorite Bach harpsichord piece. He took the almost banal, nursery-tune-like eight-note motive (G-E?-C-D-E?-G-E?-C) upon which Bach fugues away most incredibly and proceeded to demonstrate how indestructible it was no matter what you did to it. Complete recordings of the seven toccatas, BWV 910-916, used to be more numerous than the current listings suggest. One of my favorites with Colin Tilney on Dorian seems to be nla . But Bob van Asperen’s EMI and Teldec recordings are still available, as is a somewhat more recent version on Hyperion by Angela Hewitt, if you care to hear the toccatas on piano.


Comparatively little is known about these seven keyboard toccatas, all written for an instrument without pedal. They are believed to be early works, dating from between 1705 and 1714, but it is not known if they were intended for harpsichord, clavichord, or organ. Yet in no way are they diminutive pieces. All are sectional, exhibiting passages of florid fantasia-like writing with contrasting fugal episodes, some, as in the aforementioned BWV 911, very intricate and intensively worked out.


Berben’s Hill harpsichord is a lovely instrument, producing a full, rich, and balanced sound from top to bottom, and it maintains its pitch throughout, something I’ve found not to be the case with one or two harpsichord recordings I’ve reviewed recently. Interpretively, Berben seems a bit ornament-happy, adding not an insignificant number of his own flourishes, which are sometimes a bit much and/or not in the right places, in my opinion. For example, he adds a mordent on the penultimate E? in the very first statement of the above-cited theme in BWV 911. Yet he leaves it off on the theme’s immediate repetition. This seems to me to be counterintuitive: State the theme straight as given the first time, then, if you must, ornament on repeating it. In any case, Bach provided plenty of ornate passagework of his own in these works for them to require much in the way of extra seasoning. Other than that, I have no complaints about Berben’s solid technique and well-paced delivery.


If it’s just the toccatas that interest you, I’d try hunting down the wonderful Tilney on Dorian; somewhere you should still be able to find it. If not, I’d stick with van Asperen. But this new Ramée release makes for a very nice supplement to the Bach organ and harpsichord discs you most likely already have in your collections.


FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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Works on This Recording

1. Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Léon Berben (Organ)
Period: Baroque 
Written: by 1708; Germany 
Date of Recording: 05/2008/04/2009 
Venue:  church of Sint Laurens, Alkmaar, The Net 
Length: 8 Minutes 59 Secs. 
2. Prelude and Fugue in D major, BWV 532 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Léon Berben (Organ)
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1708-1717; Germany 
Date of Recording: 05/2008/04/2009 
Venue:  church of Sint Laurens, Alkmaar, The Net 
Length: 11 Minutes 35 Secs. 
3. Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 538 "Dorian" by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Léon Berben (Organ)
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1708-1717; Weimar, Germany 
Date of Recording: 05/2008/04/2009 
Venue:  church of Sint Laurens, Alkmaar, The Net 
Length: 12 Minutes 13 Secs. 
4. Toccata and Fugue in F major, BWV 540 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Léon Berben (Organ)
Date of Recording: 05/2008/04/2009 
Venue:  church of Sint Laurens, Alkmaar, The Net 
Length: 13 Minutes 34 Secs. 
5. Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C major, BWV 564 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Léon Berben (Organ)
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1708-1717; ?Weimar, Germany 
Date of Recording: 05/2008/04/2009 
Venue:  church of Sint Laurens, Alkmaar, The Net 
Length: 15 Minutes 7 Secs. 
6. Toccata in G minor, BWV 915 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Léon Berben (Harpsichord)
Period: Baroque 
Written: by 1708; ?Weimar, Germany 
Date of Recording: 05/2008/04/2009 
Venue:  church of Sint Laurens, Alkmaar, The Net 
Length: 9 Minutes 33 Secs. 
7. Toccata in C minor, BWV 911 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Léon Berben (Harpsichord)
Period: Baroque 
Written: circa 1717; Weimar, Germany 
Date of Recording: 05/2008/04/2009 
Venue:  church of Sint Laurens, Alkmaar, The Net 
Length: 10 Minutes 54 Secs. 
8. Toccata in D minor, BWV 913 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Léon Berben (Harpsichord)
Period: Baroque 
Written: by 1708; ?Weimar, Germany 
Date of Recording: 05/2008/04/2009 
Venue:  church of Sint Laurens, Alkmaar, The Net 
Length: 12 Minutes 30 Secs. 
9. Toccata in D major, BWV 912 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Léon Berben (Harpsichord)
Period: Baroque 
Written: circa 1710; Weimar, Germany 
Date of Recording: 05/2008/04/2009 
Venue:  church of Sint Laurens, Alkmaar, The Net 
Length: 10 Minutes 51 Secs. 
10. Toccata in F minor, BWV 910 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Léon Berben (Harpsichord)
Period: Baroque 
Written: circa 1710; Weimar, Germany 
Date of Recording: 05/2008/04/2009 
Venue:  church of Sint Laurens, Alkmaar, The Net 
Length: 11 Minutes 35 Secs. 
11. Toccata in G major, BWV 916 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Léon Berben (Harpsichord)
Period: Baroque 
Written: by 1710; ?Weimar, Germany 
Date of Recording: 05/2008/04/2009 
Venue:  church of Sint Laurens, Alkmaar, The Net 
Length: 8 Minutes 6 Secs. 
12. Toccata in E minor, BWV 914 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Léon Berben (Harpsichord)
Period: Baroque 
Written: by 1708; ?Weimar, Germany 
Date of Recording: 05/2008/04/2009 
Venue:  church of Sint Laurens, Alkmaar, The Net 
Length: 7 Minutes 44 Secs. 
13. Toccata quasi Fantasia con Fuge, for organ in A major (by M. Rossi and/or H. Purcell, not JSB), BWV Anh. 178 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Léon Berben (Harpsichord)
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1657 
Date of Recording: 05/2008/04/2009 
Venue:  church of Sint Laurens, Alkmaar, The Net 
Length: 5 Minutes 30 Secs. 
14. Prelude and Fugue in E major, BWV 566 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Léon Berben (Organ)
Period: Baroque 
Written: by 1708; Mühlhausen, Germany 
Date of Recording: 05/2008/04/2009 
Venue:  church of Sint Laurens, Alkmaar, The Net 
Length: 7 Minutes 12 Secs. 

Sound Samples

Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565
Prelude and Fugue in D major, BWV 532: Prelude
Prelude and Fugue in D major, BWV 532: Fugue
Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 538, "Dorian": Toccata
Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 538, "Dorian": Fuga
Toccata and Fugue in F major, BWV 540: Toccata
Toccata and Fugue in F major, BWV 540: Fugue
Toccata, adagio and fugue in C major, BWV 564: Toccata
Toccata, adagio and fugue in C major, BWV 564: Adagio
Toccata, adagio and fugue in C major, BWV 564: Fugue
Prelude and Fugue in E major, BWV 566: Prelude
Prelude and Fugue in E major, BWV 566: Fuga
Prelude and Fugue in E major, BWV 566: Interlude
Prelude and Fugue in E major, BWV 566: Fugue
Toccata in G minor, BWV 915
Toccata in C minor, BWV 911
Toccata in D minor, BWV 913
Toccata in D major, BWV 912: Toccata in D major, BWV 912
Toccata in F sharp minor, BWV 910
Toccata in G major, BWV 916: I. -
Toccata in G major, BWV 916: II. Adagio
Toccata in G major, BWV 916: III. Allegro e presto
Toccata in G major, BWV 916 (arr. J. G. Preller): Toccata in G major, BWV 916 (arr. J.G. Preller)
Toccata in E minor, BWV 914
Toccata quasi Fantasia con Fuge, BWV Anh. 178

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