- Joan Lippincott (Organ)
Notes & Reviews:
Few organists are as well known or highly praised for their Bach recordings as Joan Lippincott. Performing on the newly constructed Craighead-Saunders organ at Christ Church, Rochester, NY (closely modeled after a 1776 instrument by the central German organ builder, Casparini), Lippincott brings a maturity of vision to Art of Fugue that is based on a lifetime of distinguished interpretations and insights into Bach's organ works.
Thus this somewhat longish review ends on a positive note. I am alternately delighted, thoughtful, excited, and drawn in by Lippincott's traversal of this knotty music, and I think you will be, too. Highly recommended.
Among American organists Joan Lippincott stands as one of the most respected scholars, teachers, and mindful virtuosos. You can tell throughout her superb (and superbly recorded) traversal of Bach's The Art of Fugue that Lippincott is a seasoned artist who clearly has pondered her choices of tempo, registrations, and articulations, abetted by the sonorous lung-power and vibrant tone colors of the Craighead-Saunders organ at Christ Church, Rochester. You especially notice this in the contrast among reed stops chosen for the Canon in Augmentation and Inversion, which create an unusually intense dialogue between the spidery lines that seems more lively than the moderate basic tempo suggests. Likewise, Lippincott's subtle distinctions between sustained and separated notes justify her slow pace and consistently full registrations for the multi-thematic Contrapuncti Eight and Eleven.
In contrast to Helmut Walcha's full-throated choirs in Contrapunctus Seven, Lippincott's quiet flute stops create a more intimate, conversational relationship between the busy voices. The final, unfinished fugue is grand and austere, and ends exactly where Bach left off, with no telegraphing ritard needed. Yet, as Contrapunctus Five bears out, Lippincott is capable of applying minuscule adjustments to firmly-held tempos that allow the music to sing rather than pontificate. And check out her assiduously imaginative cadenza at the end of the Canon at the tenth. For those who care about such things, the organ is pitched a half-step sharp, meaning that all of these D minor fugues and canons actually reproduce in E-flat minor. In sum, this is an organ Art of Fugue worth mentioning alongside Marie-Claire Alain's reference 1993 remake (Erato) and Walcha's uniquely granitic 1956 version.
Recording information: Christ Church, Rochester, NY (02/28/2010-03/02/2010).
The booklet describes these works composed by Bach during the final decade of his life. The fugues and variations were composed for teaching, illustration, sharpening understanding and perception, as are many works by the giant of Baroque—yes, of all—music. The booklet “walks” the listener through the composition and increasingly elaborate structure of these pieces. Lack of track labeling for computer playing is careless and inconvenient. Fascinating illustrations entice further; the cover is cleverly arranged with disks on the outer flaps. The student can only assume that the drawings are illustrations from the Bach die Kunst der Fuge 1742 workbook. Pictures and brief description of the magnificent Craighead-Saunders organ are welcome but woefully insufficient tribute to this instrument. Comments regarding Ms. Lippincott neglect the enduring excellence of her credentials, virtuosity, and stellar level of performance. The booklet should be twice as long with much more background on the performer, instrument, and composer. The listener is left to trudge off into www-land for more information on all these topics.
Finding another organ recording of the Art of the Fugue is another exploratory exercise. Numerous recordings on varied instruments have been made throughout the years, the musical world ever pursuing the genius of Bach. But only one other organ recording, from some time ago, surfaced after some inquiry. How very fortunate are listeners nowadays to have this new excellent presentation by a thoroughbred organist on one of the world’s finest instruments.
Not only students will find this CD a necessity for studying composition and/or performance. The fugues themselves provide elegant listening experience for those seeking excellence in sound. Master classes can be built around these; but they may be enjoyed in concert as well. They can provide interesting examples, and elucidate the beautiful registrations and texture of exquisite stops. Sections such as Contrapunctus 6 with its energetic statement, 7 with the contemplative introspection manifest by the ethereal flutes, and 8 with its statement of faith and joy shown by the principals and trumpets, can be performed in recital. On CD2, Contrapunctus 13 dances the perky gigue through composition and registration. The Canon per Augmentationem delights with its principal and gutsy pedal reed. The abrupt cut-off of the Contrapunctus 14 still surprises and strikes with grief. While Bach was never restricted to any “purist” insistence of certain instruments or setting, he was an organist; so it is fitting to have this most excellent work illustrated and performed on the organ. Joan Lippincott and the Craighead-Saunders organ open this Art to standards of twenty-first century excellence.
Submitted on 06/02/12 by howsweetthesound
Works DetailsBach, Johann Sebastian : Art of the Fugue, BWV 1080
- Performer: Joan Lippincott (Organ)
- Notes: Christ Church, Rochester, NY (02/28/2010-03/02/2010)
- Running Time: 79 min. 19 sec.
- Period Time: Baroque
- Written: by 1742