First things first. I was absolutely amazed at the sound quality of this retrospective CD of Bach’s organ music played by Danish legend Finn Viderø. Bearing in mind that these recordings were made in in the nineteen-fifties, they have all the clarity, freshness and power of the digital age. The one exception is the final track on the second CD, which presents the ubiquitous Toccata and Fugue, BWV 565. This was remastered from an old 78rpm record. However, this is well-worth having for the imaginative interpretation and fascinating sound of the Fredericksburg Church (Denmark) organ.
A few biographical details may be of interest. Finn Viderø was born on 15 August 1906 in He served in several churches as organist, including the Reformed Church, the Jægersborg Church, the Trinitatis and St. Andreas Church all in Copenhagen. Besides his duties as an organist, Viderø was a harpsichordist, a composer, a musicologist and a music teacher. in Denmark.
Viderø became known outside Denmark for of the many recordings he made of organ works. Some were issued on 78rpm records. These were highly-regarded interpretations that were deemed to be ‘authentic’ performances. Finn Viderø died in Copenhagen on 13 March 1987 aged 80 years.
Readers will be pleased to know that I am not going to discuss all 46 chorale preludes in the Orgelbüchlein. A few general remarks will suffice. The Orgelbüchlein (Little Organ Book) is a collection of relatively short organ works by J.S. Bach. Albert Schweitzer calls it ‘the lexicon of Bach’s musical speech.’ It was originally conceived by the composer to include 164 preludes based on 161 hymn tunes used by the Lutheran Church on ‘high-days and holy-days’ during the Church’s Year. It is to be eternally regretted by organ enthusiasts that he only completed 46 of these pieces (BWV 599-644). Bach abandoned the project when he was appointed to the Court at Köthen. The Orgelbüchlein served (and serves) a dual function – liturgical use and as a ‘primer’ for organ students. The British organist James Lancelot remarked that Bach’s Orgelbüchlein ‘has become the organists bible.’ He further suggests that ‘No organist should be ignorant of the collection and every organist should master some at least of these chorales which have adorned the liturgy of churches throughout and far beyond Lutheran communities’
The Orgelbüchlein largely features chorales from the first half of the Christian year – Advent to Whitsun. As noted they are short. The chorale is typically presented in the right hand ‘treble’ part and does not have ‘interludes’ between the sections of the tune. The ‘added value’ of these chorale preludes is found in the registration, the harmonization and the embellishment with musical ornaments. Finn Viderø gives a definitive performance of this great collection of organ music. It is characterised by ‘rhythmic precision’ and (for me at least) a perfect and inventive choice of registration. The organ at All Sorø Church was built by Marcussen and Son in 1942 and is ideally suited to Viderø’s interpretation of this music. It is regarded by many critics (apparently) as one of the most successful examples of the ‘organ movement’ once associated with the ‘Back-to-Bach’ concept. Based on this recording, I agree.
Although the focus of this first volume is the masterly Orgelbüchlein, several other pieces are included. The opening track is a 1952 recording of the stunning Variations on ‘Sei gegrüsset, Jesu gütig’, BWV 768. This is one of Bach’s masterworks that explores the melody by way of 10 fascinating variations which explore many possibilities of chorale-ornamentation. The mood of each variation is nominally based on the sentiment of each verse of the hymn. The piece ends with an intricate five-part chorale, which sums up the Work and the whole World!
Other pieces include a selection of six quieter chorale preludes, including ‘Schmücke dich, o liebe Seele’ BWV 654 and the deeply moving ‘Liebster Jesu, wir sind hier’ BWV 731. I was impressed with the inventive recital of the Prelude and Fugue in B minor, BWV 544, which is from Bach’s Leipzig period (1723-50). It is one of the most mature and satisfying examples of the genre.
The excellent booklet gives details of Finn Viderø’s life and times, which would seem to be the most comprehensive discussion of him available, at least in English. The organ specification of the instrument at All Sorø Church is given, but not the one Frederiksberg Church, Denmark.
This is splendid ‘retrospective’ of Bach’s music recorded by Finn Viderø. I have been impressed by every piece. I understand that there are four further volumes planned to be released shortly, exploring recordings made by Viderø in the 1950s of music by Bach, Buxtehude, Pachelbel and several other composers.
One final note. Before a wedding at which Finn Viderø was playing the organ, the groom asked if he could ‘make the organ sparkle and bubble.’ He looked at them over his glasses and abruptly replied: ‘Do you think I am a fizzy drink?’ This reflected his often spartan but wholly effective ‘take’ on organ registration.
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Variations on: Sei gegrüsset, Jesu gütig BWV 768
Choral Preludes: Vater unser im Himmelreich BWV 762; Nun komm', der Heiden Heiland BWV 659; Liebster Jesu, wir sind hier BWV 731; Von Gott will ich nicht lassen BWV 658; Schmücke dich, o liebe Seele BWV 654
Prelude and Fugue B Minor BWV 544
Prelude and Fugue in D minor BWV 565
Finn Viderø (organ)
Rec. All Sorø Church, Denmark, 1952 (Variations & Chorale Preludes); 1953 (BWV 544); 1958 (Orgelbüchlein); Frederiksberg Church, Denmark 1950 (BWV565)
DANACORD DACOCD 791 & 792