THE BACH PROJECT - VOL.1Complete Organ Works
Johann Sebastian Bach
TODD FICKLEY, organ
Zwolle, The Netherlands
HAUPTWERK: SCHNITGER ORGAN (1721)
BEST OF THE YEAR DISC
Audiophile Audition [December 2015]
“Fickley’s interpretations display considerable imagination and liveliness. They are not just literal regurgitations of the score. There is plenty of inflection of the rhythm and tempo and a variety of articulations depending on the character of the music.”
Gatens, American Record Guide [September/October 2015]
“Here is something surely unique and guaranteed to raise some eyebrows, as it did mine... Todd Fickley strikes me as the very model of a modern organist, by which I mean his playing is clean, straightforward, technically secure, and sharply focused in the manner of a Simon Preston or Peter Hurford… Fickley gives really splendid readings of these works... listen to some of the most enthralling Bach organ playing you are likely to hear anywhere by anyone.”
Jerry Dubins , Fanfare [July/August 2015]
“There is much competition in this repertory of course, but this first issue bodes well from an artistic standpoint: at its completion this project by Todd Fickley might well end up as one of the more impressive Bach organ cycles. By the way, Fickley has announced that he intends to perform each volume in this series on a different Hauptwerk-based organ but, having been won over by the sound of this excellent Schnitger organ, I rather wish he'd stick to this one – its sound is simply superb. But then, maybe he'll find another organ just as beautiful sounding. At any rate, this is a most desirable CD for Bach keyboard enthusiasts. Highly recommended!”
Robert Cummings, ClassicalNet [June 2015]
[ * * * * * ] “A new series that promises to be one of high intellect and persuasive performance... Judging from this effort, we have something really exciting to look forward to... [Fickley displays] a fine grasp of style and performance, granting us the privilege of hearing Bach sans sanitization, energetic, colorful, and replete with excellent articulation and highly-charged emotion. This is going to be a series to anticipate with high expectation.”
Steven Ritter, Audiophile Audition [May 2015]
[ * * * * ] “Fickley’s performances are fine, historically aware although not imbued with all elements of historic performance practices. The actual sound of the music is fine as well...”
Mark J. Estren, InfoDad.com [May 2015]
“This is a valuable disc solely as a fantastic recording of some of Bach’s finest music, but as a harbinger of future releases in The Bach Project it is priceless... The sound of the instrument used for this recording is arresting from the first chord of the opening selection, and special mention must be made of the fidelity with which the organ is recorded. This is one of Northern Europe’s greatest organs, and recording it from a distance of 32 feet as supervised by engineer Jiri Zurek for this project both enables preservation of the clarity of the instrument’s registers and appreciation of the acoustical ambiance of the space and the five-second reverb...Its robust construction and unique timbre make it an ideal instrument for playing Bach’s organ music, and Mr. Fickley’s performances on this disc are enhanced by the grandeur of the instrument at his disposal... Hearing a great organ in a space worthy of its sound is an experience like no other, and this first installment in Todd Fickley’s and MSR Classics Bach Project recreates that experience on compact disc as vibrantly as any recording has ever managed to do. Mr. Fickley is not a limelight-seeking organist like Virgil Fox: rather, he is clearly one whose scholarship and dedication equal his technique. In this recital of organ music by Bach, there is a rare intersection of great music, great instrument, and great player. Imagining Bach playing his own music as well as Todd Fickley plays it on this disc, is there any wonder that his contemporaries esteemed him most highly as an organist? When hearing musicality of this quality, one does not interrupt the player’s concentration to inquire about the provenance of a piece: one merely sits back, listens, and enjoys.”
Joey Newsome, Voix des arts [April 2015]
“[Fickley's] style seems exceptionally smooth… This is an ideal program for listeners who are just getting acquainted with Bach’s organ music and want to know what it optimally 'sounds like'..”
Phil Muse, Audio Society of Atlanta [February 2015]
PROGRAM NOTESWhen I decided to launch The Bach Project – to perform and record all of Johann Sebastian Bach’s organ music – there had not been a complete cycle in the Washington, D.C. area in nearly a quarter century. My primary goal was to come to terms with each work. With more than 15 years of performing experience with the Washington Bach Consort, a period instrument ensemble founded by Bach specialist J. Reilly Lewis, I felt ready to begin such a monumental undertaking. Each program is being planned deliberately according to the principle of variety Bach used when improvising on a given theme. Forkel, Bach’s first biographer, explained the principle this way: “First, he used this theme for a prelude and a fugue, with the full organ. Then he showed his art of using the stops for a trio, a quartet, etc., always upon the same subject. Afterwards followed a chorale…. Finally, the conclusion was made by a fugue, with the full organ….” The existing catalog of Bach organ music recordings is already full of excellent cycles on historic and historically inspired instruments. Consequently, it seemed to me that a new cycle would benefit from a decidedly different perspective. Enter the revolutionary new Hauptwerk technology.
Hauptwerk is a computer program into which one can load highly detailed “pre-recordings” of a variety of organs. Each pipe is recorded in different ways, often multiple times depending on the velocity of a key attack. Similarly, each pipe is recorded following the key release in order to capture the natural sound decay and hall acoustic. Again, each key release is recorded several times, depending on the length of the preceding note. Consequently, the completed organ “sets” are enormous, often in excess of 20 GB. The entire set is loaded, via Hauptwerk, into the RAM of a computer, after which the recorded organ can be accessed instantaneously for performing or recording from a suitable organ console. The revolutionary feature of this technology is that every sound is the unaltered sound of the actual instrument: nothing simulated, nothing derived, nothing added. It is a real, natural recording of the total organ, which appeals to the “purist” in me. The fascinating twist is that the organ is recorded before the performance!
Needless to say the implications are enormous, the most obvious being that historic instruments all over the world become readily available to organists and students. However, there is an amazing clarity to the recording allowing the most intricate counterpoint to be distinctly heard in ways that often surpass that which is experienced through the traditional recording method. Each pipe sample is individually cleaned and de-noised, and finally the whole organ is voiced specifically to the recording listener’s perspective. the sounds are put through no further processing, but rather are simply “assembled” in real time as the organist plays. My goal is to record each program of the The Bach Project on a different Hauptwerk-based organ.
For this first volume, I have selected the large four-manual Schnitger organ of 1721, located in St.
Michaëlskerk in Zwolle, The Netherlands. While this instrument has been renovated and restored several times over the centuries, most notably by Flentrop, it still stands as an example of an organ that would have been extremely familiar to Bach. The Zwolle Schnitger was recorded at a distance of 32 feet to the front of the organ giving a fairly close and articulate sound-picture yet allowing the sumptuous fivesecond reverb to be heard. The listener should note that although the Hauptwerk system allows for extensive digital manipulation of sample sets (such as changing the temperament, pitch and reverb), none of these virtual “options” were used in this recording. While I am deliberately using a very new technology, my goal remains to produce an historically-informed recording made in the traditional session method. I hope this “new take” will be of interest not only to the Baroque purist but to the electronic modernist as well.
Born in Washington, D.C., organist Todd Fickley began his studies at the Washington National Cathedral under Bruce Neswick. At age 23, he was made a Fellow of the American Guild of Organists (AGO), and holds the AGO Choirmaster Diploma. He also earned a Master of Arts in Organ Performance with High Distinction from the University of Wales. For many years, Fickley taught and prepared choirs of all ages using the Royal School of Church Music system for the performance of repertoire ranging from Johann Sebastian Bach’s Passions and Cantatas to annual Nine Lessons and Carols programs. A prize-winning organist, Fickley has performed across the United States, in Israel, and in Europe, and has been featured on NPR and PRI radio programs. In 2014 he launched The Bach Project, a cycle of concert performances and recordings of the complete organ works of Bach—the first such undertaking in the Washington D.C. region in nearly a quarter century. Fickley frequently appears as conductor, accompanist, and speaker in the Washington metro region. He holds Organist positions with the National Cathedral Choral Society, the Choralis Foundation, The Falls Church Anglican, and the Washington Bach Consort with whom he has been performing for more than 15 years. [ www.toddfickley.com ]
PROGRAMJOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH (1685-1750)
TOCCATA, ADAGIO & FUGUE IN C MAJOR, BWV 564
AN WASSERFLÜSSEN BABYLON, BWV 653
TRIO SONATA NO. 1 IN E-FLAT MAJOR, BWV 525
PRELUDE AND FUGUE IN A MINOR, BWV 543
PARTITE DIVERSE SOPRA IL CORALE SEI GEGRÜSSET, JESU GÜTIG, BWV 768
Chorale and 11 Variations
PASSACAGLIA IN C MINOR, BWV 582