Bach: Fantasias, Preludes & Fugues

James Johnstone (Raphaëlis Organ, Roskilde)
Metronome MET CD 1095
BWV 535, 537, 538, 544, 545, 572, 578

When I reviewed the first volume of James Johnstone’s complete Bach organ music in June 2016, recorded on the reconstructed Wagner organ in Trondheim Cathedral, I welcomed his stylish and lively playing, saying how important the choice of organ was for such a project. This is the second volume, and shows the same spirited playing, good choice of instrument and fresh approach to colour. He clearly plays from newly edited scores (listen to the Largo in BWV 545) and there is always the sense that he comes from a world of informed and concerted music-making that is a good way from the presuppositions of the English cathedral organ loft.

For these Fantasias, Preludes & Fugues, Johnstone turns to the Raphaëlis organ set near the pulpit in the western half of Roskilde cathedral, where he had recorded (on the Marcussen choir organ) Paul McCreesh’s fine Matthew Passion in 2004. This organ began its life in 1554-5, and, after modernisation in 1611 and in 1654-5, very little was done till 1833, when the firm of Marcussen did a major rebuild. Further enlargement took place in 1926 and 1950. Marcussen completed a major reconstruction in 1991, refashioning the structure and voicing to its 17th-century form. The results are an instrument that speaks with clarity and zip, whose action must make it a pleasure to play.

The tempi are on the brisk side and Johnstone’s registration aids his clean fingerwork. The only fly in the ointment is the sometimes slow-speaking pedal 8’ Trompet, which he uses a lot to give clarity to the pedal line in preference to the 16’. As with a number of the organs of this period, the only pedal fluework is a Principal chorus based on the 16’, with a solitary flute at 8’. 1’ Sedecima  stops on both the Rygpositiv and the Brystværk indicate the instrument’s early origins and there is (as far as I can tell) only one Tierce rank.

The cracking pace of the Prelude and Fugue in B minor BWV 544 is exhilarating, and neither here – nor in the Gravement in BWV 572 – is he afraid to use a manual 16’. But, if you want a testimony to his fingerwork, listen to the clarity of the episodes in the Prelude in G minor BWV 535. The disc ends with the Dorian Toccata and Fugue where you can appreciate the balanced flue choruses of the Manualværk and Rygpositiv. For the Fugue he adds the 8’ manual Trompet  for a rich and zesty fullness.

The dancing rhythms and splendid energy of Johnstone’s playing are matched by quality recording technique, which makes this a complete Bach organ music to follow with eager anticipation. Collect them all.

David Stancliffe