George Ritchie
Reviews - Vol. V
More reviews:
Organ Works Complete
Vol. 1
Vol. II
Vol. III
Vol. IV
Vol. VI
Reviews of J. S. Bach Organ Works, Vol. V: Orgelbüchlein Plus
The American Organist, December 2002, Vol. 36, No. 12

Opening this magnificent volume can be likened to opening a gift of superior confections. One wishes to overindulge, and it is easy to do so. This is not a gift to be enjoyed all at once. Rather, it is to be savored over time, conserved for moments when the requisite attention can be devoted to it. The instrument is a superb one, both visually and sonically. Paul Fritts & Company's three-manual, 83-rank "magnum opus" commands our attention in the photographs provided, as well as in its sound. Inspired by Schnitger as researched by John Brombaugh, this is a perfect instrument on which to interpret this music. One is regularly reminded of Biggs, Flentrop, and Harvard.

The organ is centered, visually and aurally, in the entirely sympathetic space of Pacific Lutheran University's Lagerquist Concert Hall, and recorded at a distance from the installation to allow for bloom and mix, yet not so far as to lose individual tone. The preparation is flawless and fully notated in the accompanying booklet; the registration is carefully presented for each work. Though registrations could have been designed only to showcase the instrument, which they do admirably, it is the music that is brought to the forefront. George Ritchie's renderings are painstakingly prepared; one gets the sense that each note has been artistically considered. Those selections that should be glorious are splendid and elegant; those that should be meditative are introspective but never maudlin. Only after several hearings does one begin to appreciate fully the scope and nuance of both the instrument and the player. Each of the 45 chorale preludes included is listed according to its purpose in the liturgical year (Advent, Christmas, Passiontide, Easter, Pentecost) as well as its further meaning (Catechism, Temptation, Death, and Eternity) in the impressively analytical and comprehensive notes by George Stauffer of Rutgers University, co-author with Ritchie of Organ Technique, Early and Modern. Those recordings, however, escape pedantry: they are not overdone. Restraint seems to be a strong consideration. For the most part, this is a reference-level collection; a place to turn when one wishes to know how something should be done correctly. It should be in any serious organist's library, and should be reached for frequently. Finally, this exquisite composite of artist, composer, and instrument is, at $14.98 for the two discs, a steal, and therefore comes even more highly recommended.

Paul Aldridge
The Organ, August-October, 2002, No 321

This is the latest volume in George Ritchie's recordings of Bach's organ music, played on American baroque organs. The Fritts instrument used for this present double CD is a three manual built in 1998. It has a warm, impressive sound, with a wide variety of tonal colours. In specification, it is reminiscent of the organ in St. Wenzel, Naumburg, 'proved' by Bach towards the end of his life. The instrument looks good, too, with its full Werkprinzip layout of Back-Positive, Great, Swell (Oberwerk) and Pedal towers at each side. The acoustic is warm without being over-reverberant.

Though the Orgelbüchlein is the centerpiece of the recording, we are also treated to five major 'free' works: the Prelude and Fugue in C major, BWV 545; the Fantasy and Fugue in C minor, BWV 537; the Trio Sonata no 3 in D minor, BWV 527; the Concerto in C major (after Ernst), BWV 595; and the Prelude and Fugue in F minor, BWV 534.

Ritchie is a very fine player. His technique, phrasing and articulation are immaculate. Nor is he afraid to experiment with the many colours of the organ, much as Bach himself must have done. And this tonal colouring is used to depict a scene appropriate to the particular chorale prelude. So we have 4' flutes or 8' regals used on their own; or we have the full pleno, with and without manual reeds. This is a very high quality rendition of the Organ-Book and, while the pieces were not intended to be played as a suite, Ritchie's interpretation is so good that the preludes stand well together.

There are some excellent programme notes, a specification of the organ, and a synopsis of the combinations used - well worth a study.

The CD cover states that there are '2 CDs for the price of one'. The CDs would be a bargain at twice the price. I am only sorry that I was not able to review the earlier volumes, but I look forward to hearing more. Very highly recommended.

David Baker
The Artist