Notes and Editorial Reviews
BuxWV 137, 139, 140, 142, 145, 146, 149, 153.
BuxWV 178, 182, 183, 197, 199, 207, 211, 223.
Fugue in C,
Passacaglia in d,
Chaconnes: in e,
Canzonetta in G,
Magnificat Primi Toni,
Toccatas: in d,
Te Deum laudamus,
Marie-Claire Alain (org)
APEX 2564651790 (2 CDs: 144:09)
This is a budget-priced reissue of Alain’s Buxtehude recordings of 1986, no liner notes are included.
As for the performances, I was able to compare a fairly large portion of them to the superb 2010 SACD album by Masaaki Suzuki (BIS 1809). The first thing that strikes the listener is that Suzuki is faster, sometimes considerably so, in nearly every piece of music. Moreover, the difference is not merely one of speed but also of articulation. Alain almost always, given the choice, prefers “binding” the notes together, sometimes even sustaining one note before the next one is struck on the keys. The phrasing is more legato and to a certain extent “slurred.” It is not quite a romantic style of baroque music, but in a sense it is even less crisp in rhythm and articulation than the playing of Virgil Fox (I speak here of general style, since I have no recordings of Fox playing Buxtehude, which I’m not sure he ever put on disc anyway). Suzuki is consistently lighter, crisper, more enlivening in rhythmic impetus, and interesting in his approach to each piece.
And yet, there is something positive to say about Alain’s approach, and it is this: Unlike Bach, whose music was almost always meant to be played in fairly strict time, Buxtehude’s music is rife with tempo fluctuations and Luftpausen, not only in his organ music but also in his harpsichord music, and in this important stylistic trait it is Alain who understands this better than Suzuki. She plays this music with a slightly irregular pulse which is the heart of Buxtehude’s style while Suzuki surges ahead in phrase after phrase. Is one right and the other wrong? Not really, because each of these two organists goes slightly against the proper style in different ways. Which do I prefer? That’s difficult to say. In certain pieces, such as the Toccata in F, I liked Suzuki better, while in others, such as the wildly imaginative Te Deum laudamus , I felt that Alain came closer to the mark.
Thus I found myself becoming more ambivalent about making a clear-cut decision the more I compared them, but in the end I became more captivated by Alain’s discursive approach. And of course, the instrument used also has an impact on the sound as well as the performance style. I seem to recall (researching the Internet yielded nothing of help) that Alain generally played more modern and/or updated organs, at least until the 1990s when she started rerecording Bach on earlier instruments, while Suzuki plays two early organs on his disc, the Klapmeyer organ (built in 1649, revised in 1699 and 1730) of Altenbruch and the Wilde-Schnitger organ (built by Wilde in 1598, rebuilt by Schnitger in 1682, reconstructed in 1982) in Lüdingworth. But, as I say, Alain wasn’t considered one of the greatest organists of the 20th century for no reason. If you already own the Suzuki disc you may not wish to acquire this set, but if you don’t, I give Alain a slight edge over Suzuki for the musical reasons noted above. In addition, this two-CD budget reissue is selling for less than the single BIS disc.
FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley