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Albert Schweitzer (Organ)

A True Man For All Seasons Performs Bach


Schweitzer plays Bach, Volume I

Toccata & Fugue in D minor, BWV 565
Prelude & Fugue in G major, BWV 541
Fugue in G minor, BWV 578
Prelude & Fugue in F minor, BWV 534
Prelude & Fugue in C major, BWV 545
Fantasia & Fugue in G minor, BWV 542
Chorale Settings BWV 654 & 653
Fugue in A minor, BWV 543

Albert Schweitzer (Organ)

Pearl Gemm


CD / TT 74:56

Donald Satz wrote (October 11, 2001):
Albert Schweitzer's is one of the best known names in the history of Western Civilization. A man of consummate intellect, his main loves were theology, medicine, and music. There may be some who assume that Schweitzer just dabbled in music, but he took it seriously and studied extensively under Charles-Marie Widor and wrote books centering on the marrying of intellect and music.

Anyone who doubts the musical abilites and inspiration of Dr Schweitzer need only listen to this Pearl disc to erase all reservations. Schweitzer is a no-nonsense interpreter of great strength and muscularity. He enters Bach's world as if he was born to it, and four of the nine works on the disc deserve nothing but the highest accolades. For me, the combination of his granite power, majestic spirit, and incisiveness result in performances to treasure.

There is one work which is not a good fit for Schweitzer - the Toccata & Fugue BWV 565. The work requires a youthful energy and an atmosphere of mischief; those are qualities rather alien to Schweitzer.

The recorded sound is very good for its time. Static is constant but not intrusive except perhaps for the Fugue BWV 543. The organ sound is well-defined and never acts as a hindrance to the display of Schweitzer's power.

Below are my musings as I listened to the disc:

Toccata & Fugue in D minor, BWV 565 - Leonhardt's bold, sharp, and powerful performance on Sony/Seon is my standard. Schweitzer is well below Leonhardt's level. The Toccata and Fugue are lower in energy and less sharply delivered; his Fugue is particularly slow and stale in comparison. Also, phrasing can sound a little awkward at times. Overall, Schweitzer's reading is fairly uneventful and eventually loses my interest.

Prelude & Fugue in G major, BWV 541 - Lionel Rogg on Harmonia Mundi plays the Prelude like an explosion of energy; his Fugue is driven and highly exuberant. Wolfgang Rubsam extends Rogg's seven minute reading to almost ten minutes in length; the Prelude's explosion is more angular, muscular, but also of less exhilaration than Rogg's. The same applies to Rubsam's Fugue, although I do find his strength and command very impressive. Schweitzer is as slow as Rubsam and less severe. The energy and vitality supplied by Schweitzer is much stronger here than in BWV 565. This is an excellent version comparable to Rubsam's but not as propulsive as Rogg's.

Fugue in G minor, BWV 578 - Driving yet elegant music which is one of the Bach works that Stokowski orchestrated. As usual, Rogg is excellent with an irresistable rhythm. In comparison, even quicker versions by Christopher Herrick and Olivier Vernet seem whimsical with little drive. Schweitzer does provide more weight and drive than Herrick or Vernet. His reading is a little stern, but the music easily handles it. Also, the rays of light shine through more effectively by contrast. This is a great performance of stature which equals the Rogg version.

Prelude & Fugue in F minor, BWV 534 - Among alternative versions, Murray on Teldec and Otto on Berlin Classics are my current favorites. Murray's Prelude is a dynamic and majestic reading which is heavily and perfectly weighted; his Fugue is slow, has great determination, and well contrasts the generally severe atmosphere with the passages of radiance. Otto shows off the wonderful and distinctive Silbermann organ of the village church of Fraureuth. Schweitzer doesn't have a Silbermann organ at his disposal, but he needs no special advantages. His performance is powerful as hell and that would be a great place for it. Schweitzer is demonic and rough; the hero he delivers to us takes no prisoners and grants no pardons. Presidential material! How does he handle the tender passages in the Fugue? Just like an affectionate pussycat. This is a magical, majestic, and rugged interpretation not to be missed.

Prelude & Fugue in C major, BWV 545 - You know that Schweitzer's Fugue is going to be a glorious one from listening to his Prelude. Already, majesty surrounds me to a much greater degree than other versions; there's no mystery here and little swaying. The slow reading deals from power without one iota of loss of poetry. In the Fugue, Schweitzer stretches beyond the mere confines of Earth with an outstanding performance that's a sure-fire morale booster. The relatively heavy textures are so different from E. Power Bigg's gentle ones, but both are great listening experiences.

Fantasia & Fugue in G minor, BWV 542 - My standard for this work comes from Karl Richter on Deutsche Grammophon. The power and muscularity of his Fantasia is tremendous without the slightest loss of poignancy or poetry. Richter may be a little on the stern side, but this music easily accomodates it. In the Fugue, poetry, joy, and a relentless drive toward resolution are basic elements of Richter's performance.

Schweitzer's Fantasia takes no backseat to Richter's, but his Fugue is not one of the best. Schweitzer sounds too slow and drags some; at times he's ponderous, and at other times he is benign. Overall, this fugue doesn't have enough bite in Schweitzer's hands. That surprises me very much.

Up to this point, Schweitzer's instrument of choice has been the Organ of All Hallows Church, London. The remainder of the program is on the Silbermann Organ, St. Aurelie, Strasbourg:

Chrorale Settings BWV 654 & 653 - Bine Katrine Bryndorf gives a glorious and quick paced performance of BWV 654 on Hanssler. Filled with majesty, Bryndorf really excels at highlighting the smooth sarabande rhythm and always striving for peace and comfort.

Schweitzer is much slower than Bryndorf, replacing her majesty with a strong element of aristocracy. Ultimately, I'll go with the majesty and quicker tempo, but Schweitzer is as fine as the excellent and even slower version by Ton Koopman on Erato.

BWV 653 also has a sarabande rhythm and is a highly reflective lament. Timings tend to range from a little under five minutes to about seven minutes. For my taste, laments can get ponderous, so I have troubles with the seven minute versions. Schweitzer is in the six minute range with all the majesty he held back in BWV 654; it's a wonderful performance which is uplifting and loaded with dignity.

Fugue in A minor, BWV 543 - Schweitzer plays the work shorn of its Prelude. His Fugue is one of the slowest I've heard. It is quite good in a powerful and stern manner. However, the swirling element is a little undernourished and sound interference infects a few notes toward the beginning of the performance.

Don's Conclusions: I consider Schweitzer an essential listening experience for those wanting to delve into the history of recorded performance of Bach's organ works. He is one of the Bach 'titans' and this Pearl recording gives him great sound for the times. Beyond all that, you'll get four of the most inspired performances of any Bach organ works on record. Needless to say, my recommendation is to snap up the disc without hesitation. I'll be ordering Schweitzer's other disc on Pearl as well. I can't think of a reason to be without it.

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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