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Organ Works BWV 525-771
Recorded Sets of Bach's Complete Organ Works
General Discussions - Part 3 (2006-2007)

Continue from Part 1

Complete Organworks by Knud Vad

Richard van Schelven wrote (February 8, 2006):
Does anybody have any opinions about these series of 18 SACDs?


BIS 5 SACDs complete organ works by JSB

Olle Hedstrïm wrote (September 30, 2006):
Eric Bergerud wrote:
<< Was looking at the BIS SACD propaganda that came with my Minnesota Beethoven CD. They've got a 5 disc edition of the complete Bach organ works [...] Why one wants surround sound with a single instrument, however, I'm not sure. Would it sound like you're inside the instrument? >>
Cara Emily Thornton wrote:
< The organ is a funny instrument. Depending on its construction, it can even happen that the sound can come at you from all directions. One set of pipes here, one set of pipes there, and so on through all the corners of the space. And if the player is aware of this, then they may well take advantage of it, for example, to have those fugal entries come at you from different parts of the hall. I remember hearing a concert by a Curtis student once upon a time, and the organ in their hall was constructed this way, and it was just AMAZING. Never heard anything like it before, never (yet) heard anything like it again. So yeah, if the organ is really constructed in this manner, in a way I guess you are sitting inside the instrument when you listen... And I guess the SACD is intended to duplicate that effect for you.
Cara T (as opposed to Cara P - who, unlike me, can actually play the organ :> ) >
I have the BIS complete organ works by Bach on 5 CDs. There's neither a surround sound mix, nor two channel SACD sound quality available on those 5 discs.

Bach's complete organ works usually fit onto 16 CDs, how can it be possible to squeeze them onto only 5 discs ?

Well, the trick is to use the available storage capacity of SACDs, which is far greater than conventional CDs.

On these 5 discs you have the usual CD sound quality, but the storage capacity of SACDs makes it possible to store more than 4 hours of organ music on only one SACD !

More than 20 hours of listening pleasure from only 5 discs. What do you think of that ?

Zev Bechler wrote (October 1, 2006):
[To Olle Hedström] How does one purchase these BIS 5 SACDs ?


Olle Hedstrïm wrote (October 1, 2006):
[To Zev Bechler] I don't know where you live, but if BIS doesn't have representation in your country contact:

BIS Records, Sweden
their www:
phone: + 46 8 54 41 02 30

Uri Golomb wrote (October 1, 2006):
[To Olle Hedström] A point to remember regarding these SACDs -- since they are pure SACD, not hybrids, they will only play only machines that are SACD-compatible (unlike hybrid CD/SACDs, which will play on ordinary CD players as well). Here in Israel, such SACD players are relatively difficult to obtain -- not many stores stock them. I bought one recently, as I already have a few hybrids, and the sound quality is indeed better (the Cantus Koeln MBM, for example, sounds much more spacious and resonant on the SACD than on my ordinary CD player, hooked to the receiver and speakers). However, I won't be surprised if machines like the one I bought (an Onkyo CD/DVD/SACD player) will be noticeably cheaper in a couple of years' time.

Right now, there are very few pure SACDs around; most issues are hybrids, which means that even if you buy such a disc before you get your SACD player, you will still be able to enjoy it. If SACD really catches on, however, there might well be more pure SACDs out there like that Bis Bach set -- discs that avoid the extra layer, and instead place more music a single disc. If this happens, then obviously it would make more sense to buy an SACD player (which will stay play ordinary CDs as well).

Eric Bergerud wrote (October 2, 2006):
[To Uri Golomb] I know people outside the USA are expected to pay taxes for things like cheap health care and other socialist frivolities and thus have to pay more for gadgets, but many of the major brands in the US like Sony are offering SACD support in almost all of their DVD/CD players and none are what I'd call expensive. (Mine was $70 refurbished.) But you will need a multi-channel receiver that supports SACD also, but they aren't necessarily expensive now either. And at least five speakers - six if you get small ones and need a sub-woofer. And several cables which if you don't watch it the friendly dealer will rob you blind on. But all of this will remain true for the immediate future. So if one is going to take the plunge there really isn't any real reason to put it off. I'd still say a good 2 channel CD system will pound a bad SACD system - but if things are at all equal, it's a worthy technology and won't go away because it must cost almost nothing to add to components. I think vinyl lovers would particularly like it because the sound is definitely warmer as well as more spacious. Still if money is an issue in life, I'm not sure I'd recommend it to audiophiles. However, if you do watch movies or musical DVDs you probably have a multi-channel system or should. The difference there is quite startling. There is a very good US chain called Best Buy that has added very helpful introductory articles to a variety of home technology, explaining basic terms, requirements etc: the url for surround sound is:
(Beware, however, on the cable issue. Most retailers will try to convince you that extremely expensive cabling is essential for hardware which is simply not true. I wouldn't get bargain basement stuff but companies like Belkin or Phillips make perfectly decent cabling for a far less cost than brands like Monster. Monster is a local company and the founders zillionaires because they found morons would pay almost anything for a copper wire.)


BIS SACD Bach Complete Organ Works

Kim Patrick Clow wrote (July 16, 2007):
I'm considering buying the BIS set of Bach's complete organ works. I've seen a few reviews and all of them seem to be uniform in saying this is a great purchase (and very inexpensive).

Anyone on the list have this set and can vouch as well?

Thanks so much

Peter Bright wrote (July 16, 2007):
[To Kim Patrick Clow] I'm not in much of a position to advise on the BIS set. I have the Fagius Art of Fugue on BIS which I enjoy (although it had mixed reviews, and I know a fellow list member (Don Satz) did not rate it highly) - but I guess this may not even be included in the organ works. Did Fagius play the standard organ repetoire in this set? In any case, I certainly can vouch for the Herrick performances on Hyperion - and although the Peter Hurford series on London/Decca is somewhat long in the tooth, it also contains great insights. Both sets are on sale at very reasonable prices from time to time...

Pablo Fagoaga wrote (July 17, 2007):
[To Peter Bright] I think the set includes the AoF.


Walcha organ works in mono

Kirk McElhearn wrote (July 23, 2007):
At the top of this page:

There are covers for two sets of early Walcha recordings, one from DG and another from Documents. Are they indeed the same sets? (The latter is available in France for EUR 9 plus shipping; for 10 discs!!!)


Aryeh Oron wrote (July 24, 2007):
[To Kirk McElhearn] AFAIK, and I have done deep and extensive investigation for compiling the discographies of Bach's solo keyboard works, Walcha recorded 2 sets of Bach's organ wor:
[B-1] 1947-1952 (10-CD)
[B-2] 1956-1971 (12-CD)
The cover photos in each entry are of the same set.
(Walcha has a Bach's discography page because he recorded also Bach's solo keyboard works).

Kirk McElhearn wrote (July 24, 2007):
[To Aryeh Oron] Yes, but the set on Documents; is it the same as the DG set? I'm not sure it is. (I ordered it, so I'll try and let you know by comparing to the DG site).


Bach's Complete Organ Works - Discography & Discussion

Aryeh Oron wrote (October 22, 2007):

Iam glad to inform you that I have just finished another project, which I consider as an important addition to the BCW. This is the complete discography of complete recordings of Bach's Organ Works.

The main obstacle is hidden in the definition of the goal.
A. What are the complete Bach's organ works? Are these all the works in the BWV catalogue? Should the works in the set include doubtful and/or works which have been attributed to other composers, alternate versions of the same work, works in the BWV Anh and BWV deest lists, etc.?
B. Should the discography include only finished recorded sets or sets which are still on their way?
C. Should the discography include only sets for which all the details are available?
D. What to do with sets that include also works with keyboard (harpsichord) BWV Number?

For the sake of completeness I decided to include EVERYTHING. That means ncluding every set defined as COMPLETE even if it is not so complete, every recorded set, either finished or still in its way, sets with partial data or no data at all, and listing all the works in each set, including works with keyboard BWV Number. .

The main page of "Recorded Sets of Bach's Complete (or near complete) Organ Works" is presented at:
The link in the left column leads to the artist biography.
The link in the right column will take you to the page/location in which all known details of the set are presented.

All in all, the list includes 45 recorded sets. You can easily notice that two organists have recorded the organ oeuvre three times: Marie-Claire Alain and Lionel Rogg; four organists have recorded it twice: Jean Guillou, Ewald Kooiman, Wolfgang Rübsam and Helmut Walcha, one set is by 6 organists (Hänssler), etc.

To build this discography I have used every possible source I could find, including web-catalogues, web-stores, web-magazines, artists' websites, labels' websites and other websites, as well as various printed catalogues and my personal collection. Even so, it is not yet finished. Any help in making this first-ever web discography would be most welcome. In some of the sets there are gaps to be filled, and I am quite certain that there are more sets which have slipped away. I remember that in my 1994 Bach Tour I saw in several churches many recordings of Bach's organ works by the local organist. At that time I had not even imagined building such discography. If you are aware of a complete set Bach's organ work not listed in this discography, and/or if you can fill some gaps, and/or if you find an error, please inform me, either through the BRML or to my personal e-mail address.


The topic of Complete Bach's Organ Works has been discussed in the BRML several times in recent years. I have yet to compile all past discussions stored in my computer. Until then, I found in my searches for info, a nice article by Clifford F. Gilmore in "Records in Review - 1975 Edition" (The Wyeth Press), comparing 5 sets of the organ works.

"Each of the five performers who have recorded the complete Bach organ works uses a different interpretation of the word "complete," so it's necessary to make some attempt to clarify the picture. Wolfgang Schmieder, in his thematic index of Bach's works (the Bach Werke Verzeichnis), has assigned 247 numbers to organ works-173 chorale-based works and 74 free works. The number of works is actually larger, since alternate versions often share the same number, being designated a, b, or even c. There are also a number of pieces included among the harpsichord works that might legitimately be played on the organ. On the other hand, Schmieder has assigned BWV numbers to many works of doubtful authenticity, some of which have since been definitely attributed to other composers (Krebs, Walther, Telemann, and Bernard Bach are among those thus honored). So a performer might justifiably omit some or all of the doubtful works and alternate versions of the same piece.

Michel Chapuis's twenty-disc edition is the second most nearly complete of the five recorded versions. Of the free works, he omits the eight "Little" preludes and fugues and nine more minor, doubtful works, none of which is a serious omission. He skips 34 chorale-based works, 24 from the group of 25 that Schmieder calls "youthful, doubtful, and defective" works. In all cases concerning the chorales, Chapuis's choices coincide exactly with those of the editors of the Neue Bach Ausgabe, planting the suspicion that he plays from that excellent new edition, even though the older Peters edition scores are included with the records. Chapuis also includes some bonuses in the form of first recordings of three newly discovered works that have no BWV numbers: a major chorale prelude on O Lamm Gottes unschuldig; a Prelude, Trio, and Fugue in B flat major; and a Fantasy in C minor.

The chorale is authentic and is in the new Bach edition, but Bach's authorship of the other two works must remain a matter of speculation. Still, they are highly interesting and attractive works, deserving of recording. These and some other unusual, customarily omitted pieces will appear in Vol. 5.

Vol. 1 is devoted mainly (three sides) to the six trio sonatas. These are among Chapuis's most exciting performances and are by far the best of all the available integral versions of these works. He actually equals Anthony Newman's lightning tempos and electrifying excitement in several movements. Side 4 contains the popular "Little" Fugue in G minor and six of Bach's earliest free works, interesting more as harbingers than for their intrinsic quality.

Vol. 2 is full of chorale-based works. One disc is devoted to the Canonic Variations on "Vom Himmel hoch" and nineteen more small chorales and chorale preludes based on Christmas and Advent tunes. The second disc contains the six Schübler chorales and eight smaller works. The twenty-seven small, early chorale preludes in this volume include a number of seldom-heard but delightful works, and Chapuis's extraordinarily interesting and varied readings make even the simplest of them sound like miniature gems.

Vols. 3 and 4 contain all the major preludes and fugues except the E flat; the toccatas, the Passacaglia, and the remaining free works will be in Vol. 7. The major chorale collections each appear in a separate volume: the eighteen Leipzig chorales in Vol. 8, the Clavierübung III (with the E flat Prelude and Fugue and the four duets) in Vol. 9, and the Orgelbüchlein in Vol. 10. Vol. 6 will contain the remaining unattached chorales, and Vol. 5, a kind of supplement, will contain the newly discovered and various odd, difficult-to-cIassify works.

Marie-Claire Alain's version on twenty-five Musical Heritage Society discs is by far the most nearly complete. It matters not to her if Bach wrote the piece, only if Schmieder numbered it. Aside from alternate versions, she omits only one free work (an unfinished C major Fantasy) and seven chorale preludes. (Curiously, Chapuis's less "co" version includes that fantasy and five of the chorale preludes.) She adds six works to which Schmieder has given harpsichord numbers (the four duets from the Clavierübung III and a little prelude and fugue) and an organ arrangement of that marvelous final fugal chorus from Cantata BWV 131, "Aus tiefer Not." (No one else has recorded this piece, to my knowledge.) Alain's playing is skillful and accurate but lacking in drive or imagination. She plays on a number of fine new tracker organs in northern Europe built by Marcussen. The set's chief virtues are its degree of completeness and low price.

Walter Kraft's edition, which omits sixty-one works and includes no "bonuses," is available in six three-disc Vox Boxes (SVBX 5441/6) and, at an even more tempting price, in a single eighteen-disc Murray Hill box with all the same printed matter. Kraft performs on a dozen fine and truly historic European organs, making the set appear even more attractive. His playing, however, is woefully inadequate: excruciatingly labored, slow, laden with wrong notes and botched rhythms, and utterly lacking in imagination. The set could not possibly be priced low enough to qualify it as an acceptable bargain. I really fret for the casual buyer who innocently takes these records home and wonders why Bach is so painful to listen to.

The most heavily pruned of the complete editions is Helmut Walcha's, contained in two large Deutsche Grammophon volumes. Vol. 1 (2723 008, eight discs) is devoted to the free works; all doubtful works have been banished as well as quite a few more that he apparently regards as inferior. In all, there are thirty six omissions from this volume, among them eight works already published in the new Bach edition and others that have never been considered doubtful. All the major works are here, though.

Vol. 2 (2723 009), a seven-record collection devoted to the chorale settings, has not yet been released in this country. It includes all the chorales in the four big collections (Orgelbüchlein, Schübler, the eighteen Leipzig chorales, Clavierübung Ill) plus the Variations on "Vom Himmel hoch," one partita, and six more chorales, omitting the remaining seventy-four chorale settings. These are Walcha's second recordings of the "complete" Bach; the earlier ones, mostly in mono, have been deleted for a number of years. Most of the new recordings were made on a severely renovated Silbermann organ in Strasbourg, the others on the organ of St. Laurenskerk in Alkmaar.

Walcha's style is that of the noble purist's reaction against the excessively subjective, "Romantic" Bach performances of the last century. In recent years, however, the pendulum has swung back toward the center, and his performances now seem excessively objective, bloodless, sterile, and embarrassingly reverential. His integrity is unassailable, and he deserves respect for his important accomplishments, but I can't recommend any of his performances to today's record buyers.

Lionel Rogg's records must be mentioned for the sake of completeness, even though they will be difficult for American collectors to find. He too has recorded the complete series twice, omitting thirty-three of the free works and about sixty of the chorales. The first recordings (in very good mono) were made on the superb large new Metzler organ in the Grossmünster in Zurich. They are now available singly on the English Oryx Bach Recordings label (B-OR 1-18). A stereo series, done on a fine Silbermann organ in Arlesheim, was made by French Harmonia Mundi. The first nine of these records were available briefly here on Epic (B3C 166, 169, 173); the whole series is still available in France in three six-record boxes (Harmonia Mundi 521, 522, 523).

Rogg, a student of Walcha, is a self-confessed admirer of his mentor, so his style is predictably similar. Rogg, however, plays with more facility and a bit more imagination: These are good, standard readings.

Chapuis's, then, easily outclasses all the competing complete sets. I would rank him right along with my other favorite Bach organists, Richter, Biggs, and Newman. Chapuis combines some of the best qualities of these three players: Richter's eIectrifyingly exciting playing, Biggs's wit and sparkle, and Newman's incredible facility. I recommend that you start with Vol. 3 (preludes and fugues played at Zwolle) unless you're already convinced that you should go for the complete ten volumes."

During the period of preparing this discography I immersed myself almost solely in the world of Bach's organ works. I am crazy enough to have 11 complete sets plus bits and pieces from some more, which is more than enough. Unlike the world of Bach's vocal works, I am not sure that I need any more. Of the sets at my disposal, I feel more comfortable with four: Lionel Rogg's 2nd (HMF), Wolfgang Rübsam's 1st (Philips), Simon Preston (DGG) and Werner Jacob (EMI). By comfortable I mean that these are the sets to which I find myself returning most often, when I want either to listen to a certain work, or just to hear organ music in the background when I am doing something else, such as preparing this announcement. Please do not ask me which is the best set. IMO, every generalisation regarding such a huge group of works with about 12-20 hours of music in each, is risky and might do injustice with the efforts of the artist.

My favourite organ work these days is the Passacaglia & Fugue in C minor, BWV 582. I have listened to every recorded performance at my disposal, including organ, pedal-harpsichord (some experts claim that the work was composed originally for this instrument), piano transcriptions, etc. My favourites recording of this magnificent work is by Werner Jacob: good balance, well-structured, clear lines, dignified, not too rush, beautiful colours, quiet drive and momentum, sense of continuity. In short, to my ears this is how this work should sound.

John Pike wrote (October 22, 2007):
[To Aryeh Oron] Another extraordinary labour of love and a very helpful introduction. Many thanks, Aryeh.

Julian Mincham wrote (October 22, 2007):
[To John Pike] Just to fully agree with John's comment below. Well done indeed, Aryeh!

John Pike wrote (October 22, 2007):
[To Aryeh Oron] Have been looking into this a bit more and have a few questions, which I wonder if Aryeh, the oracle is able to answer.

Sadly, the Chapuis set is not available at present.

Both he and Alain (3rd set) fit all the works on to 14CDs. Chapuis is supposed to be the second most comlplete set after Alain's first set but Bowyer takes 28 CDs over it and Hurford, the only "complete" set I have, is 17CDs. How does Chapuis manage to fit on all these works of questionable authenticity in fewer CDs?

Is the third Alain set very much less comprehensive than her first set? Have a number of works of questionable authenticity been newly discovered and recorded by Bowyer, to make up his staggering 28 disc set, exactly double the Chapuis and Alain (3rd) sets?

Randy Lane wrote (October 22, 2007):
[To Aryeh Oron] Is there any reason you do not include Rogg's third set?
It was recorded in the mid 1970s for EMI and issued on on 20 LPs.
Only part of it has ever been made available on CDs.

Randy Lane wrote (October 22, 2007):
I see that you include in your discography, you just don't discuss it in this email thread.

Aryeh Oron wrote (October 22, 2007):
[To John Pike]
Some guidelines:

1. Each performer discography (linked from the main page of the Complete Organ Works) includes all the known details of each album/recorded work (including date, organ, place, TT, etc.). For easy reference the works in each album are usually arranged by BWV Number rather than by their order on the album.

2. Both M. Chapuis and M.C. Alain have not recorded the Neumeister Chorales BWV 1190-1120 (usually almost 2 CD's), but Hurford did. These works were firstly published in 1985, after Chapuis and Alain (1st & 2nd) had finished recording their sets. Why did Alain choose not to record them in her 3rd set, I do not know.

3. AFAIK, Bowyer has not yet finished his set. From what has been released so far, it seems that he recorded many spurious/dubious works, newly-discovered works, as well as works from the keyboard canon (BWV 772-994). Bernard Lagacé, for example, included in his 22-CD set the complete WTC 1+2 and the GV.

4. There are major differences in playing length of the same piece by various artists.

In short, all the available material is presented in the performer discographies. You have to make your own research based on this material to find out who recorded/not recorded what.

John Pike wrote (October 22, 2007):
[To Aryeh Oron] Many thanks, Aryeh. That's very helpful. I think the Neumeister chorales turned up in Yale University Library some time ago. Goodness only knows how they got there. I had forgoten that they accounted for nearly 2 discs by themselves.

Terence Ollerhead wrote (October 23, 2007):

[To Aryeh Oron] Thank you, Aryeh, for doing so much work. Labour of love.

I think the Passacaglia is the single greatest piece of music ever written. I have so many recordings, but none matches Peter Hurford's EMI Eminence (not the Decca) recording, of about 1990, played on the Martinkerk Organ in Groningen. A truly great recording.

For a series, I really do like Bowyer. I love the sound of the organ; and he plays with commitment and, dare I say it, good taste.

Randy Lane wrote (October 27, 2007):
[To John Pike] I still find the Philips Rübsam set the most satisfying of Complete (or nearly Complete) sets. It is OOP and very very hard to obtain, so I will pass on to all of you that tere is a copy for sale on eBay right now. It took me almost 3 years to gt a copy on eBay (I passed 2 times when the sale exceeded $200), and until today I have not seen one since I bought mine in teh FAll of 2006: eBay


L'oeuvre pour orgue intégrale

Meidad Zaharia wrote (December 2, 2007):
I can't stop listening to the Art Of Fugue's version by André Isoir on Calliope label. For me it's probably the best version with the old one by Walcha.

I don't have enough words to recommend this version to those who don't know it so i will continue directly to my question:

What do you think of his complete organ works set:

I really think of buying it...

Thanks all,

Pablo Fagoaga wrote (December 3, 2007):
[To Meidad Zaharia] Well, if you liked Isoir's AoF, you'll probably like his set too, since it is pretty much "similar" in it's entirety, when it comes to registration, and mood. If you get it, listening to isolated works should be the way to go not to end up hating organ music.

Being corageous enought to overlook the many distinctions that Isoir's set was awarded with, my taste feels more comfortable with Peter Hurford's set (Decca). More colorful, various instruments, and may be more vivid. Certainly not too HIP, but an easy winner to enjoy the music, and more interesting for finding nice surprises.

Meidad Zaharia wrote (December 3, 2007):
[To Pablo Fagoaga] Thanks Pablo,

I never had the chance to hear Peter Hurford's set.

Anyway, you helped me to order the Isoir set and no, no way i will hate organ music ;-)


Pablo Fagoaga wrote (December 3, 2007):
[To Meidad Zaharia] If that's the case, go for it!


Recorded Sets of Bach's Complete Organ Works: List | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3
Complete List of Bach's Organ Works

Instrumental Works: Recordings, Reviews & Discussions - Main Page | Order of Discussion
Recording Reviews of Instrumental Works: Main Page | Organ | Keyboard | Solo Instrumental | Chamber | Orchestral, MO, AOF
Performers of Instrumental Works: Main Page | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z


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