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Johann Gottfried Walther, a near contemporary and second cousin of J.S. Bach, was organist of SS Peter & Paul in Weimar for most of his life, and during Bach’s time in Weimar the two became friends. The concerto transcriptions are probably all most organists will know of Walther, so this complete recording is most welcome, as it shows clearly what a fine composer he was. There is one disc of free works, nine of chorale-based works, and two of concerto transcriptions. The very first work, a Toccata & Fugue in C, immediately shows Simone Stella’s understanding of musical rhetoric, with gesture and movement perfectly balanced. This work and the Preludes & Fugues in C, D minor and A minor show a great variety of imagination, matched by Stella’s flawless sense of style. More unusual is a Preludio con Fuga with two further movements – a Grave and an Aria.

The chorale settings are mostly short, in line with Walther’s liturgical needs, and there are 61 multi-verse settings ranging from two to thirteen verses. This is a wonderful collection of the Lutheran organist’s everyday music, but here consistently music of great quality and variety. The best known of the multi-verse settings is that on Jesu, meine Freude, which was published in a collection by Straube many years ago. Here in ten verses we find imaginative use of this relatively small organ – 25 stops with Rückpositiv, Hauptwerk and Pedal. Stella finds some ravishing sounds, and I must say this is one of the most beautiful new organs I have ever heard, with the voicing of individual stops superb, and providing such a range of colour from the vocal principals and gravitas of the plenum, to delicate or mellifluous flutes, fine manual reeds, silvery upperwork and pompous pedal reeds. Illustrating the close background of the two men we find the setting of Gott ist mein Heil reminiscent of Bach’s early Neumeister chorales, and the second verse of Herr Christ der einig Gottes Sohn remarkably similar to Bach’s setting in the Orgelbüchlein. Of the 14 concerto transcriptions, two are by Telemann and the rest are Italian works. That in B flat by Albinoni is a good example of a typical three-movement work, while one by Blamont, also three movements, is unusual with a Pastorella as the final, quite substantial movement, in which Stella uses the RP Dulcian to great effect.

This is a most important recording, with first-class recorded sound, consistently fine playing from Simone Stella, and an organ and acoustics as near perfect as one could hope for. Very highly recommended.

DOUGLAS HOLLICK Read the full review on Agora Classica

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Choir & Organ, 2016 - ©Rhinegold Publishing