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Kay Johannssen (Organ)
Joan Lippincott (Organ)
Bach’s Trio Sonatas for Organ from Johannsen and Lippincott


Part 1
Part 2




Edition Bachakademie Vol. 99: Organ Works - Six Sonatas

Trio Sonata No. 1 in E flat major BWV 525 [3:11, 5:59, 4:04]
Trio Sonata No. 2 in C minor BWV 526 [4:01, 3:57, 4:20]
Trio Sonata No. 3 in D minor BWV 527 [4:59, 4:03, 4:03]
Trio Sonata No. 4 in E minor BWV 528 [2:51, 5:01, 2:38]
Trio Sonata No. 5 in C major BWV 529 [5:28, 5:47, 3:52]
Trio Sonata No. 6 in G major BWV 530 [4:16, 5:45, 3:46]

Kay Johannsen (Organ) [Metzler Orgelbau AG/Dietikon 1992]


Mar 3-5, 1997

CD / TT: 78:38

Recorded at Stadtkirche, Stein am Rhein, Germany.
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Bach: The Trio Sonatas

Trio Sonatas BWV 525-530 [12:25, 11:33, 12:49, 10:37, 13:54, 12:27]

Joan Lippincott (Organ) [Taylor & Boody organ]

Gothic 49116


CD / TT: 73:45

Recorded at Saint Thomas Church, Fifth Avenue, New York City, NY, USA.
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Part 1

Donald Satz wrote (June 8, 2001):
The six Bach Trio Sonatas BWV 525-530 are compositions from his maturity and were finalized in the early 1730's. They are a unique body of works in that Bach transferred to the organ the Italian trio sonata with its two treble voices and bass continuo; for the organ works, Bach uses right hand, left hand, and pedal in a fully egalitarian application. The stylistic variety that Bach employs for the Trio Sonatas is wide-ranging and includes alternation of polyphonic sections with homophonic ones; also, emotional themes presented display a wide range.

The Trio Sonatas do share some common traits:

1. Each Sonata has three movements with two fast movements framing a slow movement.

2. Each of the fast movements has three sections with the middle section providing the basic contrast.

3. First movements use the pedal mainly for bass support, while the third movements give the pedal a greater thematic element.

4. The circle of keys follows the tonic pattern.

Kay Johannsen is entering middle age and recorded the Trio Sonatas for Hänssler in 1997; the disc was released in 1998. Mr. Johannsen has been recorded by Hänssler in other Bach organ works including the German Mass and has received many complimentary reviews. He plays the Trio Sonatas on the Organ of the municipal church of Stein am Rhein (Switzerland) built in 1992 by Metzler/Dietikon. The disc's catalog number is 92099 and playing time is a whopping 78:01.

Joan Lippincott is the Principal Organist at Princeton University and Professor of Organ at Wetminster Choir College of Rider University. Her Trio Sonata disc is from Gothic, a recording company from sunny California well known for its solo organ releases. The disc was issued last year; Lippincott plays the Taylor & Boody organ at the Saint Thomas Church in New York. This Gothic disc has a catalog number of 49116 and playing time must be ascertained by adding up the times of each movement - about 74 total minutes.

The most pronounced differences in tempo between the Johannsen and Lippincott discs takes place in the middle/slow movements where Johannsen tends to be significantly slower in five of the six Sonatas. In addition to comparing the two discs to one another, I'll also be using comparisions from other recordings such as Koopman on Archiv, Rogg on Harmonia Mundi, Bowyer on Nimbus, Jacob on EMI, Johnstone on ASV, Preston on DG, Herrick on Hyperion, and others.

Trio Sonata No. 1 in E flat major, BWV 525 - The first movement does not have an indicated tempo, but every performance I've heard plays it quickly. The primary theme consists of a rising triad which stretches up to a sixth. The music is cheerful, possesses strong drive, a graceful nature, and swirling motions. I find that a healthy rhythmic bounce is essential; otherwise, the music can tend toward a melancholy and dreary atmosphere. That's not the way to go, especially given the melancholy nature of the second movement. But Werner Jacob takes the relatively lifeless route to the music's disadvantage. Koopman's version displays a different problem; he prefers a degree of "chop" which damages the grace of the movement. Bowyer and Rogg are excellent; they have all the rhythmic vitality inherent in the music and give uplifting interpretations. Bowyer is the more graceful of the two; Rogg the more vivacious. I should caution that Rogg has moments when intonation does not sound secure.

The above sets the stage for the Lippincott and Johannsen performances. Lippincott is not bad at all; she provides a fine rhythmic vitality and much grace. I do notice three problems which reduce the pleasure of the reading. One is that the bass is not sufficiently distinct; the music's foundation is somewhat weak. Second, her pulse never changes in the slightest. In a way, that reminds me of a Gulda or Leonhardt performance. However, they provide strong inevitability while Lippincott ultimately meanders through the movement. Third, I don't feel that Lippincott achieves full unity of the three parts; at times she sounds rather disheveled. Although the movement only lasts about three minutes, I'm quite ready to move on to another version or movement well before Lippincott is finished. I suppose I feel that an element of boredom does set in.

Kay Johannsen is a much better proposition. Bounce, vitality, and good emotions are more prevalent than with Lippincott. Unison is fully developed, and the bass's foundation is strong. Overall, Johannsen's reading is at least the equal of the Bowyer and Rogg issues and possesses the best virtues of each.

The second movement is a beautifully sad and reflective Adagio in C minor which conveys the spirit of a lament. The initial theme is inverted at the start of the second section and then repeated toward the conclusion. What I find most interesting about this movement is the immediate repeating of the final phrase of thinitial theme. These types of repeats are not typical of Bach but it works wonderfully, almost a magical moment. Timings range from Rogg's four minutes to over eight minutes for Jacob, and I'll choose Jacob easily. His rhythmic pulse is absorbing, expressiveness is
delectable, and his final phrase repeat gets to me every time.

Lippincott, at about 5 1/2 minutes, is a great alternative to Jacob. She's much better than in the first movement. Although quick, there is no sacrifice of emotional depth. On the contrary, Lippincott's is a very uplifting and incisive performance. Johannsen is on the solemn side but has neither the irresitability of Jacob's pacing nor Lippincott's depth and variety of expression.

The third movement Allegro is exuberant and exciting with an octave jumping theme. Jacob, as in his first movement, is a good example of low energy and excitement. In comparision, Koopman is a whirlwind of acitivity with a fast paced and adrenelin pumping performance. Bowyer is even better; he provides the excitement but also adds a dignified stature, and fantastic bass foundation. Johannsen reminds me of Bowyer's performance, but Johannsen is lower on excitement, stature, and foundation. I'd swear he's trying to play like Bowyer but can't quite get there. Lippincott does well, but I again feel that she's a little lacking in unison among the parts.

Trio Sonata No. 2 in C minor, BWV 526 - The first movement, Vivace, has four primary sections with many secondary avenues. Bach's swirling elements can create a strong sensation of excitement and urgency. Lionel Rogg brings out these feelings in an exceptional performance which perfectly blends the sections together while providing distinction among them; the most swirling passages sound like all energy is being sucked up by the man. Joan Lippincott doesn't provide the wealth of expressiveness of Rogg, but hers is the most exciting version I've heard; in her swirling passages, she's whipping up a frenzy. After Rogg and Lippincott, Kay Johannsen's slowish performance sounds rather sedate and surface-bound.

The second movement is a gorgeous Largo which starts out in E flat major with weeping motifs. The bass foundation is strong, and all themes are closely bound to it. The best versions I've heard possess a flowing legato such as from Koopman and the much slower Jacob. Johannsen doesn't bring out the lyricism as thoroughly as they do, but his is a fine and fluid performance as good as most. Lippincott is quick and angular; the music's beauty is in low supply, and the foundation could have been much more comforting and encompassing.

The third movement Allegro has two fugue subjects in ABABA form. The first is an allabreve Renaissance theme; the second fugue is in the baroque concerto form. Hans Otto's incisive performance on Berlin Classics is quite slow and possesses a strong urgency and inevitability. Taking a faster route, Koopman provides much excitement without any loss of poetry. Lionel Rogg's equally quick version places greatest priority on optimism and satisfaction. Joan Lippincott's tempo is right in the middle between Otto and Koopman/Rogg; the performance is excellent with healthy amounts of excitement, poetry, satisfaction, and inevitability - a version for all seasons. Johannsen is just slightly faster than Lippincott and stresses the music's optimism as much as Rogg. Ultimately, I prefer Lippincott for her more emotionally diverse reading.

Update: Both Lippincott and Johannsen have given very fine performances up to this point. I initially though that Lippincott would be problematic in the outer movements, but she bounced back splendidly in the C minor Trio Sonata. The main difference I'm noting between the two artists is that Lippincott tends to use greater angularity than Johannsen; I have found this tendency to be both favorable and disadvantageous. Neither set of performances has been revelatory, but they certainly hold up well to
alternative recordings.


Part 2

Donald Satz wrote (August 15, 2001):
Trio Sonata No. 3 in D minor, BWV 527 - In ABA form, this is a rhythmically energetic Andante. Excellent quick versions in the five minute range include Walcha on DG and Richter on Teldec; Koopman's is a great six minute reading of determination. Unfortunately, Johannsen isn't very energetic or determined, just heavy; this is a feature that's been cropping up now and then in his interpretations. Lippincott is an improvement but not close to excellent; her second section is routine and surface-bound.

The middle movement is an exquisitely gorgeous Adagio e dolce which even takes on epic proportions in the versions from Werner Jacob and Helmut Walcha; their observation of all repeats very much adds to the impact of the music. Johannsen and Lippincott perform well with an average tempo. However, they don't come close to being epic, don't convey as much depth of joy as Ton Koopman, and don't provide the stature of the Richter performance on Teldec. They simply are not as expressive as the best versions.

I like the third movement Vivace best at a quick clip with excitement in the air; that's just what Kevin Bowyer provides. Richter's confident reading on Teldec is another exceptional version. Neither Lippincott nor Johannsen approaches either of those two performances. Johannsen is the slower of the two and lacks some vibrancy.

For BWV 527, there are many other recordings superior to Lippincott and Johannsen who never distinguish themselves from start to finish. Through three trio sonatas, Lippincott is displaying greater vitality and rhythmic activity than Johannsen. Although hardly in the first rank, the Lippincott is very enjoyable. I think that only a dramatic upgrade by Johannsen can save his disc from the also-rans.

Trio Sonata No. 4 in E minor, BWV 528 - The opening Adagio may be only four measures long, but it's a majestic one which sets the table for the energetic Vivace. Piet Kee on Chandos fully captures the Adagio's majesty with the help of a strong bass line. The Andante can be mesmerizing if the pacing is in the hands of Werner Jacob, and the lively Un poco allegro is an exciting piece from Lionel Rogg. Overall, the Kee on Chandos is one my favorite versions.

Lippincott and Johannsen don't exactly answer the call in BWV 528. The majesty of the Adagio is only partial with Johannsen and pretty much absent from Lippincott's reading. In the second and third movements, neither version holds up well to Jacob and Rogg, respectively.

Trio Sonata No. 5 in C major, BWV 529 - The opening Allegro is in ABA form; the A section is optimistic with some urgency, while the B section is harmonically denser and fugue-like in its development. Koopman on Archiv and James Johnstone on ASV Quicksilva give excellent and exciting performances. Conversely, a version such as from Gerhard Weinberger on CPO is rather austere and never takes flight or conveys significant excitement. Lippincott is in the Koopman/Johnstone camp with a rhythmically energetic reading sufficienty light in texture and with excellent momentum. Johannsen gives a 5 1/2 minute performance compared to the usual 5 minute time span. The slower tempo allows Johannsen to provide more stature and confidence; also, he still manages to convey excitement and urgency. Both Johannsen and Lippincott are great choices for the first movement.

The second movement Largo was likely part of an original three movement version of the Prelude & Fugue in C major, BWV 545. It begins with a mournful theme that I think would depress any normal person, but the next theme twists the mood upward and eventually leads to a spritual rewakening. For years I've considered the Koopman performance an exceptional one for its postive and spiritualelements, but I was hoping that a version of a transcendent quality would soon appear.

Joan Lippincott answers my hope. Although her first theme has its mournful element, she actually is spiritually uplifting before the second theme begins. I don't know how she does it, but I feel magic from the performance. Lippincott is quicker than other versions, but I hardly notice any differential. She just seems to start on a higher plane and keeps rising upward. Johannsen gives a heavy performance, but he does manage to lift the spirit effectively.

The third movement is an Allegro with intertwining themes in the expositions, stretti, and great bounce/momentum. Kay Johannsen hasn't exactly been stunning in the fast movements where rhythmic energy needs to be high. So, I was very surprised to hear from him the best third movement I'm aware of. Johannsen sheds his heaviness and sometimes dour disposition to deliver a magnificent reading that soars upward with excitement, urgency, and noble staure. Lippincott is no slouch in this movement, but Johannsen is the real story. I thought that Rogg's version had great spring and momentum, but Johannsen leaves him at the starting gate.

For BWV 529, both Johannsen and Lippincott do a reverse from their rather hum-drum performance of BWV 528. They consistently hold up well to excellent alternative versions, and each surpasses the alternatives in one movement apiece.

Trio Sonata No. 6 in G major, BWV 530 - For this work, my comparisons were Rogg, Richter/Teldec, and Erich Piasetzki on a Berlin Classics disc which is Volume 9 devoted to Bach on Sliberman Organs.

The Vivace first movement is light in texture, bubbly, and youthful with quite a spring to the rhythm. This is the kind of music that Rogg responds to best, and his reading is exceptional. Although not having as much spring, Piasetzki gives a thoroughly uplifting interpretation with a very light texture. After the previous two, Richter is 'heavy' man, but he does manage to provide me with some uplifting properties. That's more than Johannsen has to offer as he falls back into his usual pattern exhibiting a combination of heaviness and slowish tempo. Lippincott is much better with a faster, more urgent, more vibrant, and lighter peformance that's just a notch less rewarding than Rogg's.

Listening to the second movement, Lento, had me remebering a couple of things. One is how easily a performer can suck all the life out of a musical creation. Yes, this is a Lento tempo and lamenatations are in the air, but the music still has vitality and can surely be spritually uplifting. Lionel Rogg, who provides so much lift to the fast movements gets totally bogged down by the Lento; it just trudges on and on with a ceasless projection of 'down and out'. Richter's also in that category. Johannsen is close behind.

The second recollection gave me the answer to why I wanted to listen to Piasetzki's BWV 530. His Lento is a banquet of music that he delivers with great poetry, beauty, and spiritual conception. The light textures are alluring, and Piasetzki's imaginative registrations are the frosting on the cake for a recorded performance that is highly revelatory. I can't say that Lippincott scales such heights, but she is rhythmically alert and the registrations are interesting.

The concluding Allegro does no favors for either Lippincott or Johannsen as a stirling way to complete the set of trio sonatas. There's beauty in this music, and these two artists together only convey a small percentage of it. Rogg conveys all of it with an irresistable pulse; he best highlights the contrasts in the music and the prevalent crossing of the voices.

Don's Conclusions: I'd like to strongly advise you to make an urgent purchase of both the Lippincott and Johannsen recordings, but neither issue is close to rating that type of testimonial. Acutually, I can't recommend Johannsen under any conditions. I am familiar with his other Bach recordings for Hänssler, and each one exhibits a tendency for heavy and relatively slow performances. Johannsen is certainly enjoyable and sometimes better, but there are superior alternative recordings for every Bach work he has recorded, including the Trio Sonatas.

Joan Lippincott's recording for Gothic is a fine choice for those who want a few discs of the Trio Sonatas. Her readings tend to be alert and much lighter in texture than Johannsen's. Her playing of the slow movements is particularly fine with quick tempos and compelling rhythms. However, versions from artists like Rogg and Walcha are on a higher plane. So I recommend Lippincott, but only if you already have a few versions in your library. Do check out her Largo from BWV 529; it's a very special performance.


Feedback to the Review

Kirk McElhearn wrote (August 15, 2001):
[To Donald Satz] It's interesting, while I cannot really get into the organ music that much, the trio sonatas are the works that touch me the most. Perhaps because of their simple registration and similarity with other keyboard works?

Thomas Boyce wrote (August 15, 2001):
[To Kirk McElhearn] I have several versions, and I'd like to call your attention to one by John Butt (on Harmonia Mundi), tho' it may be a bit too "happy" for some tastes.

Kirk McElhearn wrote (August 15, 2001):
[To Thomas Boyce] I have it, and it is indeed one of my favorites. I feel that these pieces must sound happy - when played too slowly, they sound like dirges.

BTW, since you reminded me of it, I think I will listen to it now...

Thomas Boyce wrote (August 15, 2001):
[To Kirk McElhearn] Me, too. Ready: GO!

Thomas Braatz wrote (August 15, 2001):
< Kirk comments: the trio sonatas are the works that touch me the most. Perhaps because of their simple registration and similarity with other keyboard works? >
One thing to consider is that they are, according to experts, the most difficult to write/compose.

"Le Trio est de toutes les pieces la plus difficile, et celle qui demande le plus d'habilité."

quoted by Mattheson from a French music dictionary of his time. He also gives a German musical proverb: "Daß dem, der wol mit dreien singt, es auch mit mehren gut gelingt." [Whoever 'can sing' with three voices, will have no problem with more voices."

He also says, "Es müssen hier alle drey Stimmen, iede für sich, eine feine Melodie führen; und doch dabey, so viel möglich, den Dreiklang behaupten, als ob es nur zufälliger Weise geschähe." ["All three voices must continue to have a fine melody, and yet maintain a chordal structure among themselves in such a way as if everything happened all by itself very easily."]

In all of this, there is no doubt, Bach was the master.

I also enjoy listening to these trio sonatas in the version with guitar and harpsichord (Bach with Pluck!)

Jim Morrison wrote (August 15, 2001):
I haven't heard the Bach with Pluck disc that Tom mentioned, but the Albert Fuller/Eliot Fisk disc of the trio sonatas arranged for guitar and harpsichord on the Music Masters label, now available in the USA only as a cutout I think, contains some of the liveliest music making that I have in my collection. Those two are clearly having great fun making great music. I can't recommend it highly enough. It's at Berkshires for four dollars. And that's a steal.

I bought it on the strength of Brad's passing comments in the following review:

Jim Morrison wrote (August 15, 2001):
I haven't heard the Bach with Pluck disc that Tom mentioned, but the Albert Fuller/Eliot Fisk disc of the trio sonatas arranged for guitar and harpsichord on the Music Masters label, now available in the USA only as a cutout I think, contains some of the liveliest music making that I have in collection. Those two are clearly having great fun making great music. I can't recommend it highly enough. It's at Berkshires for four dollars. And that's a steal.

I bought it on the strength of Brad's passing comments in the following review:

Thomas Boyce wrote (August 15, 2001):
[To Jim Morrison] I think that disc is available from the Musical Heritage Society.

Donald Satz wrote (August 15, 2001):
I tend to agree with Kirk about how best to play the Trio Sonatas. They can sound quite dour in versions such as the Johannsen on Hänssler.

Although I have a strong affection for the Trio Sonatas, I do prefer many other Bach organ works including the German Mass, many of the chorales, and the bulk of the Preludes/Fugues and Toccatas.

Zev Bechler wrote (August 15, 2001):
[To Donald Satz] What work do you mean by German Mass? What do you think about the recent Koopmann version?

Sybrand Bakker wrote (August 15, 2001):
[To Zev Bechler] Obviously Clavieruebung part III, so-called German Organ Mass, opened with the St-Anne Fugue. I'm not particularly satisfied about the Trio Sonatas in Mr. Koopman’s Bach organ series on Teldec. I think his recording on Archiv, made in the 1980’s, still in print, is better.

Harry J. Steinman wrote (August 16, 2001):
[To Jim Morrison] Different strokes, and all...I enjoy the "Bach with Pluck" release but find the Fisk/Fuller recording to lack vitality. To my ears, it's as if the duo were playing by formula, with less passion and verve than I would like. Yes, the voices are clearly separated, but the accents and dynamic shading that characterize the Dusanovic recording and other fine recordings of the Trio Sonatas (especially that of the Purcell Quartet-Chandos 0654).

Anyway, that's just how I hear it.


Trio Sonatas BWV 525-530: Details
Reviews of Individual Recordings:
Trio Sonatas - E.P. Biggs | Trio Sonatas - K. Johanssen & J. Lippincott | Trio Sonatas - London Baroque
General Discussions:
Part 1 | Part 2

Complete Bach's Organ Works on Hänssler: Recordings
Short Biographies:
Bine Katrine Bryndorf | Pieter van Dijk | Kay Johannsen | Martin Lücker | Andrea Marcon | Wolfgang Zerer
Early Bach Organ Works from Andrea Marcon (A. Marcon) | “Scales from Weimar” (M. Lücker) | Five Recordings of Bach’s Orgelbüchlein (W. Zerer) | Bach Organ Transcriptions from Pieter van Dijk (P.v. Dijk) | Three Recent Recordings of Bach's Leipzig Chorales: Part 1 | Part 2 (B.K. Bryndorf) | “Late Organ Works from the Leipzig Period” (M. Lücker) | Bach’s Trio Sonatas for Organ from Johannsen and Lippincott (K. Johannsen) | Bach Great Organ Mass by Kay Johannssen (K. Johannsen)

Joan Lippincott: Short Biography | Recordings of Instrumental Works
Bach’s Trio Sonatas for Organ from Johannsen and Lippincott

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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