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Reviews: Bach: Complete Organ Music - Hans Fagius

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Reviews: 4

Review by RedFox June 2, 2007 (9 of 10 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:
i am citing a review from the home page of audiophile audition by John Sunier:


There is obviously a great deal musically to talk about here, but the unusual formatting of this album requires explaining the technical details first. I recall in the 1980s a 2 CD album which contained all the piano music by a noted East European composer - though he wrote quite a bit. The secret was that the first quarter of the program was only on the left channel of the first disc, with the second quarter on the right channel. You had to use your balance control turning all the way left or right, or disconnect the output you didn't want.

BIS has come up with a far better system for cramming a great deal of music on a few discs to cut expenses. These excellent recordings of the entire organ literature of Bach were recorded by BIS in 44.1K/16-bit PCM audio in 1983 thru 1989, with a few more done in 1999. They were released on 18 discs total. The Swedish label transferred all the original PCM recordings to stereo DSD format. (So the set really doesn't belong in this section, but since a SACD player is required to hear it, I'm placing it here.) The multichannel layer on SACDs takes a great deal of storage space, and when it isn't used, the stereo SACD layer can be increased to hold far more than the standard limit of 80 minutes. Thus Disc 1 of this boxed set runs 250 minutes and there are 86 tracks! But although the resolution is not SACD quality, you do require an SACD or universal player to play the set - there is no CD layer. There probably could have been, but it would have been limited to the normal 80 minutes on each disc.

The advantages of this unconventional approach would appeal to anyone who has an SACD player and wants to have Bach's complete organ literature. The disadvantages of not being DSD fidelity or playable on a standard CD player would not then be major ones. The recordings are very good quality, made on six different pipe organs which appear to all be located in either Sweden or Denmark. The series received highest recommendations from reviewers when it was first issued on CD. Fagius' version of the famous Toccata and Fugue in D Minor is first rate but doesn't have the thunderous lower bass end of many competing versions. However, the lighter sound is probably more authentically accurate to the baroque style. Some of the other Fugues, played on other organs, do approach the thunderous. The complete Art of the Fugue is of course included, as are the Orgelbüchlein and the rather austere Clavier-Übung, Part 3. The programming mixes simpler chorale variations with trio sonatas and concertos, so if you want to skip the chorales (as I usually do) you can use your player's programming feature. Even if they make up half of the disc, you will still hear much more than 80 minutes of music! And if you have ProLogic II, you will find its simulation of the church acoustics with these recordings to be as good as many actual organ SACDs.


a supplementary remark: these recordings are excellent sonically as well.

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Review by andrewb June 16, 2007 (9 of 9 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:
This complete collection of Bach’s organ music is an enjoyable and, considering its extremely low price, a recommendable purchase. The recordings were made in the years 1983 to 1989 with the addition of the Art of Fugue recorded in 1999, the transfer to SACD is generally very successful and results in better sound than I expected – it is smooth, clean and detailed for the most part and extraneous noises from the organ mechanisms are unusually few. There is a background hiss or hum but this is only audible at the start and end of pieces. Of course the organ sound does not have the range, depth or detail to be expected from a modern SACD recording such as that of Friedheim Flamme on CPO in his Reincken disc, but it is very acceptable. (I do not have the original CDs of the Fagius recordings and so cannot comment on how much better these SACDs are than the equivalent CDs.)

I have listened to the entire set once in the last few months and some pieces several times and have found a lot to enjoy, the layout of the works on these discs is often complementary to this enjoyment, giving a pleasing variety of sound and style.
In general Fagius gives a good and reliable performance of each of the works, but I feel he could have been more imaginative and expansive with rhythms and variations in sound.

The format of 5 SACDs, in stereo only, giving about 20 hours music on 5 discs I found to be very successful and convenient, 5 discs was much easier to handle than 16 or 17 and it seemed more convenient when wanting to play a section from a disc, perhaps 30 to 90 minutes. I noted an error in the CD text on disc 5, tracks 19 and 20 are described as Passcaglia and Fugue BWV582, actually they are the Prelude and Fugue BWV550, more importantly the booklet listing is correct here and the Passcaglia and Fugue appear at the end of disc 1, with both CD text and booklet listing correct.

Booklet notes are by Fagius and excellent, there is also a helpful index of the works listing them in BWV order with the discs on which they appear. An additional booklet gives photographs and specifications of the six organs used, five of which are located in Sweden and one in Denmark.

The set is enclosed in a card box, although the box thickness appears to have been overestimated, it could easily hold over twice as many discs: perhaps this was originally planned as a CD release when the box size was specified?

I like this format very much and would have liked to see it used on other releases of older recordings (such as the Glazunov symphonies recently reissued by BIS as a boxed CD set), unfortunately the format appears to be limited in appeal – some will not buy because it is not modern and not in multi-channel and others will not buy because they cannot, or think they may not be able to, play the discs. Some people have universal players and are entirely unaware that they can play SACDs or indeed what they are.

This is a good set of Bach’s organ music and at a cost of just two full price discs is obscenely cheap – it is my third set of this music, my others are by Hurford and Herrick. Although I have found Fagius’s playing enjoyable, I have to say that if I could only have one set then it would be the Hurford CD set on Decca – Hurford plays with rhythmic vitality, he controls colour and depth, making the organ sound orchestral and generally maintains a suspense and excitement through each piece that is astonishing. The Hurford set also has very good sound, but it is less convenient, being on 17 discs, and costs about three times as much as the Fagius set.

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Review by vsoft December 4, 2008 (2 of 16 found this review helpful)
Of this 5 discs set, I only opened the first disc two years ago, and have no slightest intention to proceed.
The sound is flat and has no dynamics at all.

If you really need to save space (and possibly money), consider using MP3 files. You'll get the same quality with better compression - if burn them on a DVD disc.

If sound quality matters, forget about this box and go for J. S. Bach: Organ Works - Knud Vad - even though it's more expensive.

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Review by richard_fish October 23, 2009 (5 of 6 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:
This set is excellent value for money.

The instruments are either from the 18th century or modeled on instruments from around this time. The registrations are generally well-suited to the piece and allow you to hear all the parts.

Fagius' control of rhythm and part-writing is excellent. I sometimes feel that the more large-scale preludes and fugues could have been played with more abandon (cf. Koopman), but this is only a minor reservation. Fagius does an excellent job of sustaining line and shape in the ornate chorales (listen to BWV 622 for an example of this).

The sound is clear, perhaps a little close for my taste, but still very enjoyable. Having said that, when listening I quickly get caught up in the music and tend to forget about the sound per se.

The economic layout can be frustrating in that some works, such as the Trio Sonatas and Concertos, are spread over all the discs. This means a lot of disc changing if you want to listen to a particular set of pieces. A remote control that allows fast access to high-numbered tracks is a must. One disc has 98 tracks...

I have sets or selections of these works by Hurford, Koopman, Walcha and Herrick. They all have their merits, but I generally reach for the Fagius set first, unless I want to indulge in Hurford's spectacular treatment of the preludes or toccatas (complete with 32' reeds in some places).

If I had to buy one set of the complete Bach organ works, I would choose these 5 discs without hesitation.

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