Recorded June 1950 and September 1952, producer Dr E Thienhaus
Transfers from Archiv LPs APM 14021, 14022 and 14030
XR remastering by Andrew Rose at Pristine Audio, May 2010
Cover artwork based on a photograph of Helmut Walcha
An astonishing organ experience from Helmut Walcha
Early mono LP recordings completely transformed for this special release
"Bach opens a vista to the universe.
After experiencing him, people feel there is meaning to life after all."
- Helmut Walcha
"It's good to have these classic and interpretatively superb
recordings of one of Bach's most compelling organ works available.
The transfer quality is almost as satisfying as the performance. "
- Mark Sealey - MusicWeb International CD of the Month, Sept. 2010
J. S. BACH Orgel-Büchlein - Choral Preludes 1-45, BWV 599-644 [notes / score] Recorded June 1950 and September 1952.
Produced by Dr. Erich Thienhaus Issued as Archiv LPs APM 14021 & 14022
J. S. BACH Canonic Variations on 'Von Himmel hoch, da komm ich her', BWV 769a[notes / score]
J. S. BACH Meine Seele erhabt den Herren (Magnificat), BWV 733 Recorded 9th, 20th & 21st June 1950.
Produced by Dr. Erich Thienhaus Issued as Archiv LPs APM 14030
Helmut Walcha, Schnitger Organ, Capel, Germany
Brief history of the Cappel Organ
1680: New organ by Arp Schnitger for the Johannis Kirche in Hamburg. Pipework from a former organ was used and perhaps also parts of the case.
Schnitger Organ, Cappel
1816: Georg Wilhelmy moved the organ to Cappel.
1939: Restoration by Paul Ott.
1978: Restoration by von Beckerath after damage by a new heating system. The original frontpipes still are present. They were "forgotten" in 1917.
Helmut Walcha's Bach recordings are rightly hailed as some of the greatest of the twentieth century. He recorded more or less the complete organ music twice for DG – the first time around (1947-52) in mono, and then again a few short years later (1956-71), remaking the series in stereo. As a result the mono recordings soon slipped into a kind of semi-obscurity, with later reissues concentrating on the stereo equivalents.
There is some kind of sense in this for the listener – by comparison to the potentially room-filling and awe-inspiring sound of a church organ and its attendant acoustics which envelop you when listening to stereo recordings, it seems to me that more than usual is somehow lost in a mono organ recording; the instrument seems considerably diminished, the impact distant, one-dimensional and uninspiring.
This was the sound I heard coming from my speakers when I started transferring the first of five LP sides which together made up the source material for this release (the sixth side featured older recordings of a different organ), and I was deeply ambivalent with regard to the possibilities offered by the recordings. It was more through a sense curiosity than any real hope that I began experimenting with the restoration and remastering of such unlikely work – and a feeling that Pristine really had managed to neglect the organ repoertoire over the last five or so years.
The first sign that all was considerably better than I at first thought came with XR re-equalisation – by now the minor irritants of vinyl surface noise had already been dealt with and I saw immediately from the frequency response curve that much musical information had probably been somewhat buried by poor recording equipment. In particular the magnificent lower registers of the organ were often muted to the extent that they were barely audible; restoring these to their more normal levels had literally ground-shaking consequences! Further up the frequency range and there again was more to be heard than the records ever suggested – with XR re-equalisation what was beginning to emerge suggested something of the full grandeur of the instrument itself.
Schnitger Organ Detail, Cappel
I still had a problem, however. One of the great aspects of listening to a church or cathedral organ is the effect the building's acoustics have on the sound experience, as one is enveloped in sound which appears to arrive from all directions and none at the same time. This seemed more than Pristine's Ambient Stereo processing normally delivers, so I turned instead to the option of using advanced convolution reverberation. This takes the acoustic 'sound' of a real location and maps it digitally, allowing the reverberation from that space to be used in an exceptionally realistic manner for other recordings.
Although I did not have an acoustic mapping of the church used for this recording, what I did have in my collection was a remarkably similar church. The village church of Cappel, in which stands the beautiful Schnitger Organ heard here, is rather small and unassuming – its shorter reverberant decay time blurs the music less and allows one to hear much more fine finger-work than might be apparent in a larger church or cathedral. By mixing in a small amount of convolution reverb derived from a very similarly sized and constructed church I was able to take this recording a final step closer to reality and realise the full sense of presence and place captured in the grooves of those 60 year-old LPs.
In fact, so convinced am I that this recording really needs this additional 'help' that I've taken the unprecedented step of offering it only as an Ambient Stereo recording – in all formats. Without it the recordings seemed (to me) somewhat ineffectual and dusty relics, superseded by their later re-recordings. With it they're truly alive and astonishingly vivid and contemporary – given full rein and a good bass response from your loudspeakers the grander works are truly awe-inspiring to hear, while the more contemplative pieces completely hold the attention. In short, I'm delighted and just a little overwhelmed by what has been possible here – as I hope you will be too.
Born in Leipzig, Walcha was blinded at age 19 after vaccination for smallpox. Despite his disability, he entered the Leipzig Conservatory and became an assistant at the Thomaskirche to Günther Ramin, who was professor of organ at the conservatory and cantor at St. Thomas'. In 1929, Walcha accepted a position in Frankfurt am Main at the Friedenskirche and remained in Frankfurt for the rest of his life. From 1933 to 1938 he taught at the Hoch Conservatory. In 1938 he was appointed professor of organ at the Musikhochschule in Frankfurt and organist of the Dreikönigskirche in 1946. He retired from public performance in 1981.
Walcha recorded Bach's complete works twice, once in mono (1947-52), and again in stereo from 1956-71. This latter stereo cycle (released 10/09/2001), has been remastered, and repackaged in an economical collector's edition 12-CD box. This edition also contains the recording of his own conclusion of the last fugue of The Art of Fugue - previously unreleased.
Walcha also composed for the organ. He published four volumes of original chorale preludes (published by C. F. Peters and recorded in part by, for example, Renate Meierjürgen) as well as arrangements for organ of orchestral works written by others.
He lectured on organ music and composition (illustrated by his own playing) at the Hoch Conservatory and the Frankfurt Musikhochschule. One other contribution to music scholarship is his attempted completion of the final (unfinished) fugue of The Art of Fugue.
Walcha taught many significant American organists of the twentieth century who travelled to Germany as Fulbright scholars: these include Robert Anderson, David Boe, Margaret Leupold Dickinson, Melvin Dickinson, Delbert Disselhorst, David Mulbury, Fenner Douglass, Jane Douglass, Grigg and Helen Fountain, Charles Krigbaum - all of whom became major teachers and performers after their studies abroad.
"Bach opens a vista to the universe. After experiencing him, people feel there is meaning to life after all."
Bach: Organ Works. Performed by Helmut Walcha. 12-CD set from Archiv Produktion (Deutsche Grammophon) Catalog No. 463712 ("Walcha's Bach holds a similar place in the annals of recording to Fischer-Dieskau's Schubert, Toscanini's Verdi, and Gieseking's Debussy." -- )
Bach: Great Organ Works. Performed by Helmut Walcha. 2-CD set from Deutsche Grammophon Double Catalog No. 453064 (one disc with Walcha playing the organ of St. Laurenskerk in Alkmaar and the other with him playing the organ of Saint-Pierre-le-Jeune in Strasbourg).
Helmut Walcha has also recorded most of Bach's harpsichord works (The English and French Suites, The Goldberg Variations, Partitas, The Italian Concerto, 15 Inventions and 15 Sinfonias, The Well-Tempered Clavier) for EMI. These recordings are still available from EMI-Toshiba (Japan). The Well-Tempered Clavier and the Goldberg Variations are also available in Europe in a 5-CD set. He also recorded The Well-Tempered Clavier for Deutsche Grammophon, using a Ruckers cembalo for the first book and a Hemsch for the second book. This recording is only available in the far East (Korea, Japan).
Preludes 3, 4, 5 & 6 (Ambient Stereo)
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