George Ritchie
Review - Vol. VI
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Organ Works Complete
Vol. 1
Vol. II
Vol. III
Vol. IV
Vol. V
Reviews of J. S. Bach Organ Works, Vol. VI: Youthful Brilliance
The Organ, February-May, 2005, No 331

George Ritchie's survey of J.S. Bach's organ output upon a superb range of North American organs comes to an end with this the sixth volume, subtitled 'Youthful Brilliance', played upon the Martin Pasi organ found at the St. Cecilia Cathedral, Omaha, Nebraska and the C.B. Fisk organ in the House of Hope Presbyterian Church, St. Paul, Minnesota.

The first disc shows off the Martin Pasi instrument, which was developed with two temperaments to help widen its stylistic scope and it is a tribute to the foresight of the maker that such convincing Bach performances ensue. The crispness of the sound lends clarity to Ritchie's stylistic detail, while his straightforward, no nonsense approach to Bach should endear any listener. The disc covers a range of Prelude and Fugues BWV 536, 535, 533, 549, and 531, in that order, which are interspersed with free form variations and other singular preludes and fugues.

C.B. Fisk's instrument on the second disc is a completely different kettle of fish, and awakens one to a keener sound that achieves more in capturing the flavour of Bach. With a temperament based on that of the Werkmeister II system of the German baroque, fused with Fisk's close copying of instrumental aspects of this period, such as the Brustwerk division, the casing of the Great division and details based upon the work of Andreas and Gottfried Silbermann, it takes little to convince me that this is the more satisfying of the two discs. However, none of this detracts from Ritchie's performance, whose exemplary playing throughout is that part of the equation that convinces most. To seek out these fine recordings, details can be found on Raven's website above.

David Alker
The American Organist, January, 2006
YOUTHFUL BRILLIANCE: J. S. Bach Organ Works, Volume 6. George Ritchie, organist; St. Cecilia Cathedral, Omaha, NB (Martin Pasi & Associates Op. 14, 2003, III/74) and House of Hope Presbyterian Church, St. Paul, MN (C. B. Fisk Op. 78, 1979, IV/71). Raven OAR-740 (2 CD set).

The title of this 2 CD set turns out to be dualistic; there is a great deal of youthful brilliance in both the composition and the performance. According to notes by Dr. Ritchie’s co-author, George Stauffer, these “…twenty-two pieces…date mainly from Bach’s…early years,” and “…compensate by imaginative gestures.” No review can do this recording full justice without mentioning the first class treatment it received in the creation. The engineer is Ed Kelly, who deserves more praise for his organ recordings for Raven and other labels than he ever gets. Ritchie chose two majestic instruments in two extremely sympathetic settings, and he performs flawlessly. Pasi’s Op. 14 is in a voluminous building and in a commanding position; if anything, it is almost too resonant. Dr. Ritchie, however, manages his registrations (which are provided in full in the accompanying booklet) to allow for the full bloom and mix of the instrument. Kevin Vogt’s notes on the Pasi instrument illuminate that “…the organ is in effect two organs, in which the dual-tempered stops share 1/3 of their pipes.” Of course, (literally) in George Ritchie’s skilled hands, every ornament is perfectly executed. Indeed, one can imagine that every single sixteenth note has been considered given the consistency in both tempi and articulation. The pieces recorded are “…free works – that is, pieces not based on …hymn tunes – and chorale preludes.” They are mixed for maximum effect, with more introspective works interspersed among the more grandiose toccatas, passacaglias and fugues much as one might in a concert. Stauffer’s notes are erudite, comprehensive and yet enviably readable. There is a great deal of scholarly effort in them; they will please both the novice and the professional. The massive, groundbreaking Fisk has stood the test of time easily, and is fluent with the young Bach’s exuberance. There is so much to compliment in so little space here that the effort quickly becomes futile; superlatives exhaust themselves. That this is a fitting conclusion to the previous five volumes is too slight praise. Even the price is outstanding. Everything about this production exhibits the highest quality. It is a reference that should be in every collection. When the need is to hear Bach played to perfection, this set should be at hand. Impossible to recommend highly enough!

Paul Aldridge
The Artist