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This is a huge undertaking, interesting for the family members other than JSB, who are not so much recorded. The organs used for JSB are Trost (1730-55), Waltershausen; Silbermann (1750-55), Dresden Hofkirche; Hildebrandt (1726-28), Sangerhausen; Thielemann (1731), Gräfenhain. For the family members, organs by Dell’Orto and Lanzini (2007 and 2003), a chest organ by Patella (1998), Zanin (2007), and Volckland (1732-37), Erfurt. The booklet gives no detail of the organs, nor information about the performers. It has a brief general background to the music, and to the various family members beyond JSB.

Least successful of the organs is the Trost, which despite a fine pleno has very noisy action, particularly in vigorous pedal passages, and some rather uneven voicing not helped by dry acoustics. Stefano Molardi includes the six trio sonatas on this organ, often with a pedal 16, rather heavy and slow-speaking, and the slow movements often very slow. The Hofkirche Silbermann is wonderful, and draws the best playing from Molardi. Here we have Clavierübung III, with some lovely registrations, a fine Vater unser, and magisterial Aus tiefer Not, though the final Fugue is not convincing, falling into the trap of changing manuals too often. Best of the JSB here on the Silbermann are the ‘18 Chorales’, well-paced and nicely registered. The Hildebrandt organ is very fine, with beautifully balanced choruses in the ‘Dorian’ Toccata, which has a well-judged tempo, although the following fugue is much too slow. A lovely performance of the A minor Vivaldi-Bach Concerto on this organ has clarity and perfect balance. Next is the Thielemann organ, a fine sound but in rather dry acoustics. The Passacaglia is recorded here, a strange and unconvincing interpretation using a rather dull registration until almost the end, when suddenly the pleno appears. Molardi is not a very consistent player: he gives some excellent performances, but others, like the Alla breve on CD12, are rather dull and pedantic.

CDs 16 and 17 are devoted to CPE Bach, and in Luca Scandali we have a much more inspiring player: the six organ sonatas are given lovely sparkling performances, and the Dell’Orto organ sounds very fine indeed. Particularly impressive is a Fantasia & Fugue in C minor, which, with its dramatic rococo sensibilities, highlights the difference between father and son very strikingly. Next is Molardi on another equally lovely Dell’Orto organ playing Johann Ernst II, Johann Bernhard I, Johann Lorenz, Johann Friedrich I, and Heinrich Bach, one of the earliest members of the family who wrote some interesting and inventive chorale settings. There is an interesting Fugue by JFB I, but several very long Ciaconas by JBB I are very ordinary, using standard figurations and ideas. It is engaging to hear all this music in the family context, but I wonder how much will bear repeated listening. The best thing about these sets of variations is hearing so many and diverse registrations. Uncertain attributions include a Chorale Partita Wenn wir in höchsten Nöten sein BWV Anh. 78, which stands out as a work of interest and quality, and Molardi uses a lovely variety of colour in the seven verses.

The next two CDs are of music by Wilhelm Friedemann, one of the most talented sons of JSB, with perhaps the saddest life story. Filippo Turri plays here, with the manualiter fugues on a fine chest organ, and the fugues with pedal and seven chorales on the Zanin organ. It is stylish playing, and emphasises the contrapuntal skill that WF inherited from his father. Last come three CDs with Molardi on the Volckland organ, playing a selection of chorales and variation sets by JCB I and JMB I.

This is undoubtedly an important set, giving the context of JSB in the family. The recording is generally good, and the organs interesting. The playing is variable, but despite this, the set makes a very worthy addition to the catalogue.

DOUGLAS HOLLICK Read the full review on Agora Classica

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