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Richard Marlow (Organ)

Bach’s Toccatas & Fugues for Organ from Richard Marlow


Organ Works

Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C major, BWV 564
Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565
Toccata in C major, BWV 566
Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 538
Toccata and Fugue in F major, BWV 540

Richard Marlow (Organ)

ASV Quicksilva


CD / TT 64:19

Donald Satz wrote (July 6, 2001):
Summary for the Toccata and Fugue Enthusiast - Not a Keeper.

Bach adapted the Toccata & Fugue for organ from the North German organ toccatas by Buxtehude and others. In their compositions, the Toccata was an extended movement alternating free and fugal sections into a blend of improvisatory fantasy and strict counterpoint. Bach adapted this form by devising separate movements, increasing substance to the contrasted sections, but decreasing the number of contrasted sections.

A few weeks ago I reviewed a Bach organ recital disc performed by James Johnstone on ASV Quicksilva. Here is another disc from ASV Quicksilva performed by Richard Marlow with a more concentrated theme - Organ Toccatas & Fugues. Marlow has recorded the five Toccatas & Fugues, three of which are early works written before 1710. Mr. Marlow has had a varied musical career. He studied with Thurston Dart and wrote his doctoral dissertation on the 17th Century performer, Giles Farnaby. Marlow has been Director of Music at Trinity College and founded the Cambridge University Chamber Choir.

He writes, performs live, and records often - a man for all seasons. For the present recording Marlow performs on the Metzler Organ of Trinity College.

Toccata, Adagio & Fugue in C major, BWV 564 - The opening Toccata is one interesting piece. Its first section is loaded with surprise and humor. It sputters, runs forward, stops, speeds up, has echo effects, and generally provides the listener with a fun time. In the second section, the flow becomes more smooth and consistently driven. Johannes-Ernst Kohler, on a Berlin Classics recording, is quite demure in the first section and routine in the second. Harald Vogel on DHM is more animated in the first section, fast and exciting in the second. Bowyer on Nimbus is quite fast and thrilling in the first section; he's like lightning in the second section, but the effect is a little helter-skelter.

Two great versions of the Toccata come from Herrick on Hyperion and Preston on DG; both break away from the pack with deliciously joyful and heroic second sections. Richard Marlow does very well. He expertly handles the twists and turns of the first section, and the second section finds him conveying a strong sense of joy. However, he doesn't project the stature and ceremony of Herrick or Preston. On balance, Marlow's is a highly competitive and rewarding performance a little short of being among the best.

The central Adagio has mildly throbbing middle and bass parts with a well decorated melody line above. Most interesting is the Grave which acts as a bridge between the Adagio and following Fugue. This Grave has a improvisatory style which some performers play at a volume that feels as if the floor beneath is being heaved up. That's how Kevin Bowyer delivers the Grave, and I love his approach. Richard Marlow is basically as effective as Bowyer in the Adagio, but his Grave does not create Bowyer's impact.

The concluding Fugue is special music. Bach had a talent for composing glorious tributes to life and/or God, and this fugue is one of his best. A version that, among other attributes, sounds like it's stretching out to reach every fibre of the universe is the most upliting for me. Most excellent recorded performances don't provide that feature; instead they deliver a relatively smooth flow with much elegance. That's a fine approach, but it doesn't provide maximum glory or tribute. Rogg, Preston, Bowyer, and others are in this category. Johannes-Ernst Kohler on Berlin Classics takes a different approach. His notes and attacks are angular, not rounded. This creates the sensation of stretching which I love for this music. In addition, you can't find a more transparent reading than Kohler's. But you can find an ever better one from Martin Lucker on Hanssler. His angularity is more complete, his reading is stronger, and his registrations are unusual and delectable. With Lucker, the tribute is absolute.

Where does Marlow stand? Toward the rear. The performance is quite smooth but, unlike others, is not excellent because his notes from the higher registers are not distinct as they tend to evaporate instead of ringing out. I find it a bad decision; every other version I own is more rewarding than Marlow's.

For BWV 564, I can't recommend the Marlow performances. The Toccata and the Adagio are fine but nothing special; the Fugue is not competitive. At this point, Marlow provides average tempos without much exuberance.

Toccata & Fugue in D minor, BWV 565 - Gustav Leonhardt on Sony/Seon is my standard for this famous "Is it Bach?" work. Leonhardt is the epitome of crispness, voice interplay, and strength. Although there's still nothing crisp about Marlow, he does come out of his shell in terms of projection and exuberance. The performance is a splendid one and a big improvement over BWV 564. The Toccata has fine weight and power; the Fugue is exciting, vivacious, and highly lyrical. I still prefer Leonhardt, but Marlow's version is a close second.

Toccata in C major, BWV 566 - Written prior to 1710, the work consists of two fugues separated by a short improvisatory passage, with each fugue framed by a toccata. Both fugues are linked by descending arpeggios, but they are quite distinct from one another. The first is immensely satisfying and comforting music; the second, in triple time, is much more exuberant and celebratory in nature. I really love this early Bach creation. Whether subtle or out-going, I get wonderful feelings of the
best that life has to offer.

Almost forgot to mention that the Toccata is also in a E major version which is the prevalent key when the work is performed. In this respect, Marlow is a little daring. But truth be told, I don't find any significant difference between the two keys. Lately, my favorite versions have come from Christopher Herrick and Lionel Rogg. Herrick's second fugue is loaded with celebration; Rogg's initial toccata brings out all the music's poetry and the first fugue is supremely comforting and uplifting. Marlow's performance of the C major Toccata is highlighted by a strongly heroic second fugue which is on the slow side. The overall reading is a fine one but does not supplant Herrick or Rogg; Marlow still has a little problem with exuberance and strikes me as a reserved artist.

Toccata & Fugue in D minor, BWV 538 - This is a special work with a highly conversational Toccata and majestic Fugue of great beauty. The Toccata'a conversation between manuals can seem like it drones on and on unless the performer conveys the music's details and provides some angularity. Marlow does none of that and delivers one of the most legato-driven and cloying performances I've heard. By comparison, the incomparable Karl Richter on Teldec invests the Toccata with a vitality that Marlow totally lacks. Richter's Fugue is also superb; Marlow is much quicker and surface-bound. Overall, Mr. Marlow takes great music and removes its superior properties.

Toccata & Fugue in F major, BWV 540 - Another special Bach organ work with a Toccata that can put you in a trance and a double fugue of strong beauty and weight. Marlow's Toccata is not better than his BWV 538 Toccata; they share the same problems and ultimately have no lift. The Fugue is an improvement where Marlow displays a fine rhythm and majesty.

Don's Conclusions: Marlow only distinguishes himself in the famous BWV 565. In the other works, he is generally low on vibrancy and favors too much legato which leads to rather thick performances. There's little angularity and no crispness. The soundstage is a good one but tends to exacerbate the smooth sound provided by Marlow.

I can't think of any reason to recommend the Marlow record. His most rewarding performance, BWV 565, is bettered by Leonhardt, and the other readings don't have a great deal to offer. Marlow's performances are safe and rarely exuberant. Although the price of the disc is less than premium, it's best to search elsewhere.

Toccatas for Organ: Organ Toccatas – Butt [Satz] | Organ Toccatas – Butt [McShan] | Organ Toccatas - Marlow

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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