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Dietrich Wagler (Organ)

Dietrich Wagler Performs Bach Organ Works


Die Gottfried Silbermann-Orgeln

Prelude & Fugue in B minor BWV 544
Prelude & Fugue in E minor BWV 548
Trio Sonata No. 2 in C minor BWV 526
Chorale Settings BWV 654, BWV 667, BWV 669, BWV 670, BWV 671, BWV 675, BWV 677

Dietrich Wagler (Organ - Silbermann Organs in the Freiberger Dom)


May 2000

CD / TT 73:56

Donald Satz wrote (September 4, 2001):
Don's Conclusion: One of the less rewarding Motette/Bach discs

Motette has issued many Bach organ discs over the years, and this Wagler disc is the most recent. I should note that I left out of the program the first and last tracks which consist of the sounding of the peal of the bells of St. Marien Cathedral at Freiberg. Some folks likely will find these two tracks rewarding; I'm not in that category. I just hear it as seven wasted minutes out of the total of seventy-four.

Dietrich Wagler, born in 1940, has made a number of recordings for Motette. Since 1986, he has been Choir Director, Organist, and Church Music Director at the Cathedral of Freiberg; therefore, he is quite intimate with the instruments and acoustics.

Intimate or not, this disc doesn't have much going for it. What do you look for in Bach organ recordings? Diverse and interesting registrations? They're not here. High levels of poetry? Forget it. Much strength, stature, and momentum? Hard to find. Wide range of expression? Dream on. 'Average' pretty much sums up Wagler's performances. For every work excepting for BWV 667, I already have plenty of alternative recordings which are as good or much better. That Wagler can sound so average on a Silbermann organ is squarely on his shoulders, for there are a few times when he brings the instrument to life. Overall, this recording can safely be passed by.

Below are my musings about Wagler's performances as I listened to his disc and some comparisons:

Prelude & Fugue in B minor, BWV 544 - This work is from Bach's full maturity while at Leipzig. The music is very powerful, emotionally deep, and particularly complex in the Prelude. With a great performance, the listener will either be emotionally exhilarated or exhausted at the conclusion; strong impact is guaranteed. This is the case with the exhilarating version from Lionel Rogg on Harmonia Mundi and the exhausting Martin Lucker on Hanssler. Rogg's rhythmic energy is tremendous, and Lucker displays a strength which is awesome. Wolfgang Rubsam on Naxos is quite powerful and thought-provoking. For a softer and more immediately optimistic reading, Christopher Herrick is a fine choice.

Mr. Wagler is quite disappointing in BWV 544. He's a long way off from having Rogg's vitality, Lucker's power, Rubsam's intellect, or Herrick's gentleness. The performance is in the 'amorphous' category; rhythmic pulse is rather indistinct, and all other factors are ordinary. Another bothersome aspect concerns the Silbermann organs which tend to have a distictive and interesting sound. You wouldn't know it at all from Wagler's reading. In his hands, the organ just sounds like so many others of the usual characteristics.

Prelude & Fugue in E minor, BWV 548 - Just within the past week I reviewed the Michael Murray version of BWV 548 and concluded that it was the least attractive reading I have ever heard. Dietrich Wagler is a substantial improvement on Murray's performance since it is a lively interpretation. However, Wagler's poetry is rather low and doesn't come close to matching the power and poetry of Herrick's performance on Hyperion. Wagler is better here than in BWV 544, but there's nothing in the performance which is memorable.

Trio Sonata No. 2 in C minor, BWV 526 - Some excellent recorded performances include Otto on Berlin Classics, Lionel Rogg, Werner Jacob on EMI, and Joan Lippincott on Gothic. Wagler at no time approaches the quality of these fine versions. He is rather light in the first and third movements, and his middle movement does not fully capture the beauty or depth of the music. However, this trio sonata has an intimate nature, and Wagler's performance does have an intimate atmosphere to it.

Leipzig Chorales BWV 654 & BWV 667 - BWV 654 has a smooth and leisurely Sarabande rhythm and is filled with hope and peace. Slower versions of eight minutes or more have to be sure to remain vital and not take on a somber atmosphere. Quick performances of seven minutes or under need to insure that a strong foundation and lyricism are maintained.

For BWV 654, I've only heard one version that's not very agreeable with me - Hans Fagius on BIS. Fagius is quick and tends to pull out of the leisurely and smooth flow, delivering a little chop to the proceedings. His foundation is weak and lyricism in short supply. One of my favorite versions, Bine Katrine Bryndorf on Hänssler is even faster than Fagius but a glorious listening experience. She maintains the smooth Sarabande rhythm and seems to be constantly striving for peace and comfort. For a slow version, Ton Koopman on Teldec can't be beat; his performance is gorgeous and thoroughly inspiring.

Wagler plays it very safe with a tempo which is about as average as possible. His foundation and lyricism are fine. However, there are many recorded versions which fill the bill as well as Wagler; there's not anything memorable to report. It's a fine and professional performance short on conveying the emotional themes of the music. I'd clap my hands if Wagler was playing live in my home; with a pile of other recordings for comparison, he's just somewhere in the stack.

BWV 667 is rousing music similar to BWV 654, the first chorale in the Leipzig set, in conveying to me an explosion of life's energy and spirit. I look for intense exuberance although it can certainly be on the subtle side; 'low' won't cut it. As good as Bryndorf is in BWV 654, that's how far off the mark she is with BWV 667. She doesn't lift off at all, sounding rather stern. Lionel Rogg is fantastic; loaded with stature and an infectious rhythmic pulse, he makes the music soar. Wagler's relatively slow tempo is similar to Rogg's and the performance every bit as rewarding. Wagler really awakens for this piece. He applies an irresitable bounce to the first section and is always stretching for the pinnacle. His organ finally sounds distinctive, and the overall effect on me is supremely uplifting.

The remaining five chorales are from Bach's German Organ Mass. They are wonderful creations with extremely high standards set by Lionel Rogg and particularly Masaaki Suzuki.

BWV 669, BWV 670, and BWV 671 constitute a liturgical and musically logical set from the German Organ Mass. With each successive prelude, the music is more intense, inevitable, and uplifting. Wagler does well with BWV 669 but then sounds downright stodgy in BWV 670 - progression is lost. However, Wagler does come back with strength in BWV 671 although the inevitability is missing in action. Overall, it's not a highly worthy performance.

BWV 675, BWV 676, and BWV 677 also constitute a set. By omitting BWV 676, I feel that Wagler breaks the music's continuity. That consideration aside, his interpretations are very good. He plays BWV 675 slowly and with great accenting and bounce for the tempo. Although Wagler's BWV 677 is a fine account, nobody can touch Suzuki for giving a majestic reading that's the finest one minute of music I ever heard.

Well, I end my listening experience raving about Suzuki and having little remaining interest in Wagler. How he rises to the occasion in BWV 667 is a mystery. Perhaps it was an infusion of Gatorade. Whatever it was, he didn't partake of it nearly long enough for me to be able to recommend his new Motette recording. For those who love bells, the disc might have more to offer.

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