Robert Quinney, organ. CORO COR16112.
Robert Quinney, Director of Music at Peterborough Cathedral, is a relatively young man (b. 1976) insofar as classical organists are concerned, and his playing shows it. His music is full of youthful dash, vigor, and élan. Whether or not you like your J.S. Bach performed with such enthusiastic verve is obviously a matter of taste, but certainly it’s good to have such choices available.
Quinney plays this second volume of Bach organ works on the Metzler Organ of Trinity College, Cambridge, which produces a gorgeous sound. This second volume concentrates on the composer’s early organ music, most of it from the 1710’s and 20’s.
Quinney begins the program with probably Bach’s most well-known organ music, the Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565. The organist attacks it with a fury, yet he doesn’t actually rush it too much. Compared to four or five other recordings of the work I had on hand, Quinney is the quickest but not by much. Let’s say it’s about 10-20% faster than the others. It’s enough, though, to supercharge the old warhorse with an extra degree of vigor that makes the interpretation sound like something fresh, new, and invigorating. Of course, he misses out on some of the music’s dynamic contrasts that he might have emphasized if he had taken more time, yet that’s the trade-off we have to accept for the additional thrills.
People of Bach’s day considered him “the world-famous organist.” He was a virtuoso on the instrument. Apparently, Mr. Quinney wants to make sure we still see Bach that way, with performances that point up the man’s virtuosity (and Quinney’s own). I have to admit, though, that sometimes Quinney goes so lickety-split through the readings, it’s hard to tell if he isn’t just showing off. He’s that good.
Anyway, among the other pleasurable pieces on the disc, we have the Passacaglia in C minor, BWV 582, with its wonderfully sonorous variations; the inventive Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C, BWV 564, that Bach wrote just before his more-celebrated one; the three refreshingly relaxed presentations of Allein Gott in der Hoh sei Ehr, BWV 662-664; and the very early Toccata and Fugue in F, BWV 540, which sounds both powerful and sensuous.
These are performances of strength and beauty, and even if you find Quinney’s style a little too relentlessly fast-paced, it’s hard to knock the sense of excitement and wonder he creates. Maybe this is Bach for the twenty-first century; I don’t know. I do know that while it’s a little different, it is not without merit.
Producer David Trendell and engineer David Hinitt recorded the music at Trinity College Chapel, Cambridge, England, in 2013. There is good depth to the setting, as we might expect from a large chapel organ and a room providing spacious, resplendent sound. Needless to say, any good organ recording lives or dies by its bass response, and this one lives it up pretty well. The bass is very deep and very taut. Overall, we get a realistic sound in every way; very impressive. Quinney doesn’t always allow too many pauses, however, so we don’t hear as much of the organ’s decay time as we might. Still, fans of organ music will no doubt appreciate this new entry in the field.
To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here: