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Wolfgang Rübsam (Organ)

Bach Organ Works from Wolfgang Rübsam, Part 2


J.S. Bach: Organ Chorales; Preludes; Fugues

Preludes and Fugues BWV 533 [5:38], BWV 551 [6:21], BWV 569 [5:39], BWV 575 [5:12]
Fantasia in B minor, BWV 563 [4:23]
Chorale Prelude BWV 714 [1:15], BWV 717 [3:26], BWV 718 [5:25], BWV 720 [3:36], BWV 722 [1:26], BWV 724 [1:38], BWV 725 [11:36], BWV 733 [6:25], BWV 734 [2:38], BWV 735 [4:13], BWV 737 [2:45], BWV 738 [1:24], BWV 741 [5:57]

Wolfgang Rübsam (Organ) [The John Brombaugh Organ]


Aug 1995

CD / TT: 79:06

Recorded at Lawrence University Chapel, Wisconsin, USA.
Buy this album at:

Donald Satz wrote (October 10, 2001):
This is the second of three Rübsam discs I am reviewing. The first one was exceptional and definitely an essential part of my Bach library. The second disc has the following program:

This second disc for review is also an essential component of one's Bach library of organ recordings. Most of the chorales on the disc are not among Bach's most popular ones. One of the wonderful aspects of this recording is how Rübsam infuses them with enhanced variety, great detail, and some changes in rhythm. The result is quite a revelation for some of the chorales. This is most evident in BWV 738 which sounds unlike any other version I know.

The Prelude/Fugue works are also not in the 'popular' category. They are from early in Bach's life and need as much variety from the performer as possible while maintaining an allegiance to Bach's style. Rübsam is just the man for the job. With stunning registrations and rhythms of imagination, he maximizes the diversity of the music.

My trip through the disc follows:

Chorales - Rübsam's BWV 714 is not memorable. The piece can provide a great feeling of comfort and tenderness such as with Anothony Newman on Vox or take the majestic route of Kevin Bowyer on Nimbus; Rübsam strattles the fence. But he comes back beautifully in BWV 717 with a highly playful and excellently detailed reading. I'm not a big fan of BWV 718, but Rübsam's highly effective hesitations and rhythms make it an arresting and favorite version.

BWV 720 is an interesting and diverse piece of music having three sections. In the first section, the music has a stark texture and is highly playful and jovial. Then, without warning, the second section starts up with a much fuller texture and more legato. The third section has elements from each of the first two and ends in a surging and swirling fashion. I listened to eight comparative versions, and each one was excellent. Folks like Herrick and Jacob employ the strongest legato in the second section, while Weinberger and Rübsam are more angular. I honestly can't choose a 'best' among these performances, although my personal preference is likely the Weinberger which I find to have the most imaginative registrations.

Rübsam's BWV 722 is the most interesting I know; he makes it a strong and sharp fanfare with some imaginative rhythmic patterns. In BWV 724, he is more angular, vibrant, and detailed than every other version I own; the registrations are delectable.

BWV 725, the German version of the Te Deum, is very difficult to perform well. Imagine a short/monothematic theme with the cantus firmus always in the soprano, and the work can easily extend to over ten minutes. That's a long time to maintain interest on the part of the listener. The keys to success are variety of attractive registrations and getting the most differentiation out of the new motifs which are constanty generated. Rübsam, although he takes over eleven minutes, gives the freshest and most interesting interpretation on record. Rübsam's pacing is so relaxed and natural, allowing ample time for the listener to absorb each new motif. I listened to many other versions and each of them had snoozing capabilites. The worst was from Olivier Vernet on Ligia; in addition to conveying an entirely bloated sound from his French organ, he was mono-volume in addition to being mono-thematic.

For BWV 733, Andrea Marcon's performance on Hanssler is a stirring and uplifting version of great muscularity. Rübsam is not as powerful as Marcon, but he is exquisitely detailed; both versions are superb.

BWV 734 is a speedy yet comforting piece with the cantus firmus in the pedal. Herrick and Rogg go for speed and create some excitement; Bowyer takes a more leisurely pace with fine projection. Rübsam is more in the Bowyer category with fine detail and comfort. I feel that projection is the key here, and the above versions possess it unlike Gerhard Weinberger on CPO whose projection is just a touch above minimal.

Worthy mortals winging their way up toward God is the basic theme of the text for BWV 735. Bach's music is a perfect match for the text, and Olivier Vernet's version best exemplifies the dash to heaven with a beaming spirit. Vernet's performance takes about 3 1/2 minutes; Rübsam extends the music to over 4 minutes. Although not exactly in the winging category, Rübsam effectively uses lighter textures and a moderate side-to-side/jagged rhythm to enhance the variety and interest that the music conveys. Rübsam and Vernet compliment one another excellently.

BWV 737 harkens back to the days of Samuel Scheidt with the individual lines being given a weighty fugue treatment. With such weight in the picture, it's crucial that the performance not get bogged down with excessive solemnity. Kay Johannsen and Werner Jacob solve that problem by using strong projection and excellent separation of voices. Rogg is less effective in both areas and gives a somewhat flat reading. For a joke of a performance, check out Vernet who uses very unattractive registrations and applies a crooked echo effect; what was he thinking? As for Wolfgang Rübsam, his enticing registrations, good projection, and penchant for finding all the nuances in the music results in an excellent performance. He's a little slower than Johannsen and Jacob, but he makes up for it in variety.

BWV 738 is a short chorale dominated by semi-quavers. For a majestic reading, it's hard to beat Christopher Herrick; the tender style of performance is in good hands with Werner Jacob. Rübsam is as majestic as Herrick and much more diverse; he again uses jagged and side-ways rhythms to always keep one's total interest.

BWV 741 is powerful and stern music just perfect for the muscular and serious approach of Andrea Marcon. Although a little less strong than Marcon, Rübsam introduces a greater degree of horizontal expressiveness. Once again, Rübsam has no superior versions for competition.

Prelude & Fugue in A minor, BWV 551 - Not one of Bach's more popular entries in the genre from his Arnstadt days, the best performances highlight the rather wild and macabre themes in the music. Erich Piasetzki, on his outstanding Berlin Classics disc, uses wonderful registrations to enhance the macabre elements. Weinberger is powerful and brash, an approach which works beautifully. Rübsam is at this top level with interesting registrations, strong detail, and wide emotional breadth.

Prelude & Fugue in E minor, BWV 533 - Another less favored work in the genre from Bach's Arnstadt period. Weinberger is again strong and brash, qualities which fit perfectly with the work. Rübsam brings the same approach to this piece that he does to BWV 551.

Prelude in A minor, BWV 569 - Built on a four-note motif subjected to many short variations, Spitta termed this work "monotonous". Judging by many of the recorded performances, Spitta is on target. However, there are two recorded versions which make the work most interesting. One is by Piasetzki; his registrations are delicious and his reading hypnotic. Rübsam provides the other great performance. Slower than Piasetzki, he gives the work additional variety and urgency as well.

Fugue in C minor, BWV 575 - An interesting piece witha bantering or mocking tone from the countersubject; the work ends with a determined Adagio culminating in a grand conclusion. Oliver Vernet is superb with imaginative registrations and precise detail; the mocking from the countersubject is full-throttle. In versions such as from Kevin Bowyer, the banter is hardly on display. Rübsam adds a minute to the reading from Vernet; this allows all his expressiveness and variety of technique to shine through. His bantering is well pronounced but can't compare to Vernet's. Overall, Rübsam's is one of the best versions and an outstanding alternative to Vernet.

Fantasia con imitatione in B minor, BWV 563 - Another early work from Bach. Christopher Herrick takes only 3 1/2 minutes to polish it off, and his Fantasia sounds like a run-through with little emotional involvement. Bowyer extends the work for another two minutes with exceptional results; there is great poignancy and lyricism in the music, and Bowyer unearths it fully.

Rübsam's tempo puts him in the middle between Bowyer and Herrick. His consistently great traits of diversity and emotional depth are again at center-stage. And again, his version is unlike any other. It's a thinking person's performance with frequent hesitations which add bounce and tension to the second section.

Don's Conclusions: This is not a disc of big Bach hits; the works are mostly from Bach's early years of professional composition. Many of them need outstanding performances of creativity, variety, and excecution to realize their full potential. Wolfgang Rübsam is just the right artist for this endeavor.

Of the eighteen works presented on the recording, Rübsam sets the standard for seven of them: Chorales BWV 718, 722, 724, 725, 738, and the Fantasia BWV 563. As impressive as this record is, every other performance on the disc is among the best available with the exception of BWV 714 which I consider an aberration on Rübsam's part or mine.

At the ridiculously low Naxos price, this Rübsam disc is a treasure of a bargain but would be essential material at four-times the cost. It's mainly not prime-time Bach music, but Rübsam makes it more of that quality than any other artist on record.

Only speaking of the stores in my local area, used Rübsam/Bach discs on Naxos show up quite frequently. I guess there are quite a few folks who decide to shed themselves of Rübsam, probably only wanting the mainstream performance styles which are so familiar. Don't take that route - it's very limiting.


Wolfgang Rübsam: Short Biography | Recordings of Instrumental Works
Reviews of Instrumental Recordings:
Bach Organ Works from Wolfgang Rübsam, Part 1 | Bach Organ Works from Wolfgang Rübsam, Part 2 | Bach Organ Works from Wolfgang Rübsam, Part 3 | Bach Keyboard Recordings from Wolfgang Rübsam, Part 1 | Bach Keyboard Recordings from Wolfgang Rübsam, Part 2 | Bach Keyboard Recordings from Wolfgang Rübsam, Part 3 | Bach Keyboard Recordings from Wolfgang Rübsam, Part 4

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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