"When I reviewed Vol 3 of George Ritchie's
complete recording of Bach's organ music it was the first I had
heard of his playing, and I was literally bowled over by it. Since
then I have acquired the first two volumes and find them as pleasing
as the third. There are a number of factors that make them uniformly
"An exceptionally important consideration for
any recording, and particularly for one of historic music, is the
instrument. How often we hear Bach played on 'bubble and squeak'
instruments of the 1960's, with the absolute minimum of foundation,
capped by shrill, tinkling mixtures. All it takes is a brief visit
to some of Germany's historic instruments to realise that such an
approach is quite wrong. Indeed, the Trost organ of the SchloBkirche
in Altenburg contains some 15 unison flue ranks from a total of
40. A far cry from the ubiquitous Lieblich Gedackt which tries in
vain to support bright upperwork. The instruments chosen by George
Ritchie for his cycle are all modern and yet are equally historic.
They look, sound and, I am sure, feel as close to a Bach instrument
as time allows us to know. The two organs chosen for Volume 4 are
both similar, California's in the style of Hildebrandt and Gottfried
Silbermann built by Munetaka Yokota in 1984 (II/36) and Houston's
also in the style of Hildebrandt built by Noack in 1995 (II/30).
Their choruses are both rich and warm, even with cymbel included
- the reeds are soft, adding colour to the ensembles and hence making
themselves known whilst never overpowering the senses. The only
drawback with both instruments (as in their baroque models) is their
undeveloped pedal departments (32,16,8,4,16,8,4 at Chico, 16,16,8,4,16,8
at Houston), which necessitates more coupling than would be usual.
"Of almost equal importance is the playing
itself, both in terms of articulation and registration. Ritchie's
playing is characterised by a fluidity which is at home in both
the large scale Preludes & Fugues in G major BWV 541, C major
BWV 547 and A minor BWV 543, Toccata, Adagio & Fugue BWV 564
and Dorian Toccata & Fugue as it is in the delicate Triosonatas
Nos 1 and 2 in E flat major and C minor respectively. Registrations
are obviously dictated by what sounds right, rather than what looks
right on paper - the choice of the Houston Trompete for the right
hand in the Allegro of the Triosonata in C minor may
look surprising, but it sounds exactly right.
"This weighty combination of organ and player
is complemented further by superb recordings by the Raven sound
engineers, presenting the two instruments in a natural, intimate
light never allowing them to overpower the listener. The noticeable
edit in the BWV 564 Toccata is the exception rather than
the rule. The accompanying booklet gives full registration details,
and the fact that two discs are available for the price of one adds
icing onto the already considerably fine cake."