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These two CDs are a compilation of large-scale Bach works played by Hubert Meister (1938-2010), first recorded between 1981 and 1985. Many of the best-known Preludes, Fantasias and Toccatas (with their fugues) are here, often on organo pleno, which can tire the ear when played end-to-end on these three bright neo-baroque organs. Trained as both theologian and musicologist, Meister’s performances are very much related to his published articles on musical rhetoric. While his playing is undeniably communicative, rhythms are sometimes interpreted in unusual ways, bordering on the eccentric (as in BWV 544/1). Tempo relations in BWV 552/2 are unconventional (an attempt at proportionality?), and articulation in the theme of the Passacaglia (BWV 582) stimulated me to further thought. Generally fugues are treated more intellectually than rhetorically, resulting in some pedantic tempi. Sometimes it feels that theory is controlling interpretation explicitly rather than implicitly, but the results are always highly interesting. Registrations are often dominated by upper work, apart from the rather subdued Passacaglia. My sense of tonality was utterly thwarted by weird auxiliaries to ornaments in BWV 542/1 (for rhetorical purposes?), and I did detect some (previously unheard of) semiquaver inégalité in BWV 542/2, which was a shock. For me, O Mensch bewein and Vor deinen Thron lacked poetry, but the energy given to some pieces (e.g. BWV 541) is considerable, even if the Pedal sounds under-registered at times. Clearly, Meister was a musician of strong intellectual ideas with a very interesting and individual musical personality. A worthy tribute.

DAVID PONSFORD Read the full review on Agora Classica

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