Bach: Organ Works, Vol. II (CD review)

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 √©lan. 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:


1 comment:

Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For over 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me--point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, as of right now it comprises an Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio High Current preamplifier, AVA FET Valve 550hc or Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

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It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa