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Alexander Knyazev has a flourishing career as a much-admired cello soloist which renders his activities as an organist quite extraordinary. What, though, should one make of a recording of the ‘Great 18’ on Walcker’s Riga behemoth by someone whose key influence as an organist has been the enfant terrible himself, Jean Guillou? Interestingly, Guillou’s traits here, some slightly jangly mutation-dominated plena aside, seem almost wholly absent. Rather, Knyazev’s performances of Bach, despite his conviction that ‘the genius of Bach’s music is in its being extremely modern’, are rooted in the 19th century: the basic touch is legato, and crescendi towards the end of BWV 656, 665 and 667 (with the pedal reeds ‘unleashed’ in the second verse) suit the organ happily. On the other hand, the gap registrations in the trios and the muta- tion-based solo combinations (often out of tune) in BWV 652, 662 and others work against both the organ and the stylistic basis of Knyazev’s playing. His metronomic rhythm (with the odd surprise such as the collapse in tempo at the ‘Hallelujah’ of BWV 652), plodding pedal lines (BWV 659, for example) and untidy ornaments make this a hard listen in general, although the multitude of Walcker’s beautiful 8ftstops occasionally serve to remind the listener of the organ’s own stylistic roots in the 18th century, and of Schweitzer’s quote from 1908 (admittedly granting the organ a few years of grace): ‘The organs built 40 years ago… are better Bach organs. What a thrill to play Bach, for example, on a Walcker organ built between 1860 and 1875.’

CHRIS BRAGG Read the full review on Agora Classica

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Choir & Organ, 2016 - ©Rhinegold Publishing