1. Bach: Organ Works / Privalova

Bach: Organ Works / Elena Privalova

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Bach's devotion to the organ, and his desire to excel on it, is without question but whereas much of his output was written with a specific purpose or occasion in mind, the toccatas and fugues are less easily categorized. Almost all of them date from Bach's Weimar years (1708-1717), when he had the most opportunities to play the organ, although he may have revised them in Leipzig (after 1723). Their elaborate nature belies the fact that Bach had to be careful about showing off: in 1705, while temporarily in Leipzig, he had been censured for an over-long organ prelude before Communion and in 1706 he had attracted the ire of the Arnstadt authorities by confusing the congregation with complicated chorale accompaniments. Organist Elena Privalova presents a program of these works, beautifully recorded at the Riga Cathedral.


Elena Privalova concentrates on the Toccata and Fugue works that date from Bach’s Weimar years of 1708-1717. It is a matter of record that such elaborate music was by no means always welcome during church services, so one can imagine these pieces being delivered perhaps at the end of formalities, sending the congregation out into the world in a wash of inspired but complex organ sound. These are all glorious works, and perhaps the only criticism one could have of such a programme is that it is rather relentlessly glorious. There are of course some contrasts of registration, but “the richest possible texture” forms the majority from beginning to end, which is of course in the nature of this particular programme. You may find yourself wanting to pick out a track or two rather than blasting through the whole CD in one go, but the temptation to whack up the volume and stir up the dust in your listening room is powerful indeed.

Elena Privalova’s technical prowess and stylish musicality is very much in evidence throughout. She is rhythmically accurate and doesn’t rush, but nor does she avoid brisk and exciting tempi, for instance in BWV 564, the rasping bottom end of the pedal solo in the opening Toccata of which is also a highlight. The D minor “Dorian” Toccata and Fugue BWV 538 is one of the more famous pieces here, and Privalova delivers that ‘demonstration’ quality that the virtuoso Bach might have employed while testing and giving organs their thorough workout.

The programme ends with that most famous of all organ works, the Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565 but, while that dramatic opening has become something of a classical music cliché this is a work that never fails to fascinate when you listen properly. It is nice to find it at the end of the recital rather than the beginning, forming a suitable climax rather than an impressive opening. Privalova is less reverential than many, swiftly joining each section in a fantasia-like fashion that doesn’t wait around for us to get bored, and reminding us of this composer’s amazing inventiveness (there are of course arguments that this may not be a Bach original) with the sheer quantity of ideas that pass by on this most special of musical conveyor-belts.

This is a very fine Bach organ CD that has been superbly recorded and with playing that is both musically insightful and technically magnificent, and you can also add this to your collection in the knowledge that it is free of gimmicks or annoying mannerisms. I had a look around for a single disc release that covers the same music and came up with Kåre Nordstoga’s recording on Simax Classics PSC1152. This is another fine release, though made on a slightly smaller-scale instrument. Your own taste will dictate which you prefer, though for me that gorgeous adagio of BWV 564 has more expressive weight with Privalova. This kind of detail, along with the sheer impact of the recording as a whole, makes this something of a winner.

--MusicWeb International (Dominy Clements)

Product Description:

  • Release Date: October 29, 2021

  • Catalog Number: QTZ2144

  • UPC: 880040214427

  • Label: Quartz Music

  • Number of Discs: 1

  • Composer: Johann Sebastian Bach

  • Performer: Elena Privalova