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Late in the year arrives the best of the year: a glorious recital by Sietze de Vries on the venerable north German baroque organ of Groningen’s Martinikerk. Equipped with stops dating back to 1482, boasting pipes manufactured in 1690-91 by Arp Schnitger – the most famous organ builder of his age – and subsequently altered, enlarged and rebuilt over the following centuries before being rescued from near ruin by Jürgen Ahrend’s masterly reconstruction during 1976-84, the magnificent 3,500 pipe, 52-stop, four-division instrument is surely one of the finest organs anywhere in the world.

Its bitingly crisp and expressive sound perfectly complements this double-disc all-Bach recital, the first CD deftly juxtaposing free and chorale-based works, the second a set of improvisations on four psalms from the Geneva Psalter. Framing the first volume is the youthfully virtuosic BWV 543 Prelude & Fugue with its spectacular use of the pedal and The Martinikerk organ in Groningen remarkable rhythmic flourish, and the incomparably rich BWV 542 Fantasia & Fugue. In between are seven preludes on three chorales (Herr Jesu Christ, dich zu uns wend, Magnificat and An Wasserflüssen Babylon) – all performed in alternatim with sung verses and variously showcasing the organ’s consid- erable resources and versatility – and the BWV 975 Concerto in G minor, its hypnotically beautiful largo nestled between fleet, combustible outer movements.

The companion disc features Sweelinck’s majestic five-part counterpointed arrangement of Psalm 137, Kodály’s choir and organ version of Psalm 114, a choral fantasia on Psalm 80 in the style of Buxtehude (recorded live at the 2007 Groningen festival dedicated to the composer) together with improvised commentaries by De Vries and a wholly authentic-sounding extemporization in the form of a baroque partita on Psalm 57.

De Vries is sublimely idiomatic throughout with beautifully measured contributions from the Projectkoor o.l.v. Rintje te Wies and excellent recorded sound. In a word: essential.

MICHAEL QUINN Read the full review on Agora Classica


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