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Sadly, these recordings do not live up to expectations. A nice, varied programme on the Martinikerk Schnitger doesn’t give the clarity and balance of recorded sound that is heard, for instance, on Suzuki’s recent Bach recording there, which shares some of the same repertoire. More important is the character of Kolbein Haga’s playing, generally taking slow tempi, sometimes excessively so, lacking vitality, and often presenting rather odd, idiosyncratic patterns of articulation which do not do the music justice. He has not been well served by his production team, with some inaccuracies in his playing that should not be there.

Haga’s colleague Ivar Maeland, playing the manualiter chorales of Klavierübung III, has much more sense of style, giving musical performances – the four Duettos are particularly nice, and the little Ahrend organ lovely. Two chorales illustrate the problems with Haga’s playing. The pedaliter settings of Dies sind BWV 678 and Vater unser BWV 682 represent old and new biblical law: 678 is a trio sonata after Corelli with the chorale in two part canon; and 682 is a ‘modern’ rococo style of writing, again with three plus two canonic parts. Many organists play 678 slowly, but Haga’s registration is heavy, and counting six in a bar rather than a slow two. This should move much faster, rather in the manner of the trio sonata string writing in the tenor aria ‘Ich will nur’ from part 4 of the Christmas Oratorio.

The longest and most complex of Bach’s organ chorales is 682, relying on clarity of registration to hear the canon as well as the accompanying trio texture. Haga is several minutes slower than most, choosing to use very similar flutey sounds for all five parts, which become impossible to hear clearly. Given Bach’s knowledge of Grigny, and copy of his Livre d’orgue, the obvious registration would be as in Grigny’s fugues of five parts: two pairs of voices, upper on cornet or similar, lower on Cromorne or other suitable reed, and 8ftpedal bass. Then all the parts can be heard with perfect clarity. There are dozens of excellent Bach recordings available, and unfortunately these simply don’t make the grade.

DOUGLAS HOLLICK Read the full review on Agora Classica

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