George Ritchie
Review - Vol. IV
More reviews:
Organ Works Complete
Vol. 1
Vol. II
Vol. III
Vol. V
Vol. VI
Review of J. S. Bach Organ Works, Vol. IV: Foreign Influences
The Organ, Vol 79, No 312

"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 excellent.

"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."

Simon FitzGerald
The Artist