David A. Kemp | Plano, TX USA | 11/05/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I'm an organ buff and a Bach buff, and I'd like to say up front that of all the distinguished series of Michael Murray organ CDs on Telarc, this one is my favorite. I find it a virtually perfectly CD: a master organist playing great music on exactly the right organ, captured in state-of-the-art sound. What more could you ask? This is one of my desert-island CDs.First, the organ: "Built according to classical precepts and akin in size and tone to some of the organs Bach knew as a young man, the Gabriel Kney organ in the chapel of the College of St. Thomas [St. Paul, Minnesota] has three manuals, 41 stops in 56 ranks, and 2,787 pipes." It was completed in 1987 (and this recording was made in 1988; it is 58:17 in length). Mr. Kney was born and raised in a German cathedral town long known for organ building; he learned his trade there and eventually moved to Canada, starting his own business as an organ builder, where he has specialized in organs with mechanical action. This organ is an ideal choice for Bach, not too large, and not located in a cavernous, over-resonant space, with wonderful clarity, articulation, and beauty of tone (no tonal hardness, steeliness, or edginess is ever to be heard from it). It has been recorded flawlessly, with such transparency and immediacy that you feel that you have a front row center seat. (Note for audiophiles: This organ has no pipes larger than 16 feet, so the lowest note to be heard is 32 Hz. But that note, and indeed all the bass notes produced by this organ, are heard here cleanly and clearly; bass quality is excellent.) Michael Murray is one of the pre-eminent organists of our day and a superb interpreter of Bach. He is a sound musician; his playing is never flashy or trendy or eccentric; and he never tries to show off: although he is an accomplished technician, his technique is there to serve the music, not the other way around (as one critic wrote, "He is definitely for us, we who listen to music first and organ fingerwork second"). I have long found him to be one of the most deeply satisfying Bach organists on record. This CD contains nine works by the young Bach (a refreshingly unhackneyed program that avoids the perennial warhorses) in performances as compelling as any you will find. Murray's tempos and his registrations are beyond reproach; they have just the right amount of gravitas, avoiding ponderousness on the one hand and lightness on the other. (He does tend to favor slower tempos, so those who like their Bach to move swiftly may be less pleased than I am.) The notes are by the highly literate Murray, who has often written his own notes, as well as books on his teacher Dupre, Schweitzer, and French masters of the organ.This is one CD that gets everything absolutely right. It is a triumph for Bach, Murray, Kney, and Telarc. I urge you not to miss it."