HELMUT WALCHA - Chorale Preludes Vol. 1

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HELMUT WALCHA - Chorale Preludes Vol. 1 - Wolfgang Rübsam (Organ) - John Brombaugh Organ Op. 35 - 747313291076 - Released: October 2012 - Naxos 8.572910

Many of us, especially admirers of Bach's organ works, instantly recognize the name of Helmut Walcha (1907-1991), and know that he was one of the top organists of his generation, and certainly one of the best Bach interpreters. Most admirable is the fact that although he was blind, he managed to learn all of Bach's organ pieces by memorizing each and every separate line or voice of each one individually, and then bringing everything together and storing it in his memory banks. He was one of the first to play recitals devoted solely to Bach's music. He once said: "Bach opens a vista to the universe. After experiencing him, people feel there is meaning to life after all."

Unbeknownst to me is the fact that he was also a composer, and based on these Chorale Preludes, a very good composer. I almost made the mistake, following my initial audition of this CD, of dismissing his music as uninspired and simplistic. But it's precisely in this simplicity that lies the wonder. After repeated listenings (every day in the car to and from work, at home, at my desk through headphones, etc ...) I now marvel at the beauty and inventiveness he's managed to draw out of the harmonic and conceptual development he's crafted into each and everyone of the 25 Chorale Preludes. In the No. 1 for example, the Nun Komm der Heiden Heiland, I'm pulled in by the beauty of the harmonic dénouement over something as simple as the pedal note A, repeated very slowly 36 times, over a period of 2:10 minutes. Or the strange, progressive-rock like modulations of No. 16, or the uncanny sublime harmonic beauty of No. 10 Herzliebster Jesu, was hast du verbrochen. Each and everyone of them has a charm or characteristic all its own, and even though Walcha was a Bach specialist, none of them come even close to resembling the music of Bach. His music is a perfect coming together of the Baroque style with 20th century harmony, and sometimes 20th century style with Baroque harmony.

This world première recording by organist Wolfgang Rübsam, who studied under Helmut Walcha, was captured on the 2004 John Brombaugh Organ Op. 35, in the First Presbyterian Church, Springfield, Illinois. An instrument perfectly suited in size and tonal quality for this music. It is the first in a projected complete cycle of all 4 volumes of these wonderful Chorale Preludes. If you are a pipe organ music enthusiast looking for something new that is at once a diversion from the norm and yet totally rooted in the last 400 years of music, the organ works of Helmut Walcha are a rewarding experience. Proof once again that first impressions are usually way off the mark.

Naxos once again enriches our listening experience by presenting us with hitherto unheard music, and great music at that.

Jean-Yves Duperron - November 2012