Since Helmut Walcha’s first groundbreaking German complete recording, begun in 1947, it is not only the image of Bach that has undergone a huge change, but also the awareness of the ”right” instruments and the stylistically appropriate interpretation. In terms of authenticity, the organ is undoubtedly privileged compared to all other instruments because it has not only survived through the centuries – as an advertising slogan once said – but has also, generally speaking, supplied the historical and authentic space: the acoustic ambience of what is termed the ”original sound”. Against this background, it is understandable that later complete recordings were ever more purposefully made in those places where the composer worked – in Naumburg, Freiberg, Grauhof or Störmthal – in order to ensure the greatest possible authenticity as regards sound. Be it organs built by Trost, Silbermann, Trautmann or Hildebrandt: the fascination alone of hearing Bach‘s organ works ring out on the instruments which the composer himself played or personally inspected as an organ expert is alluring, and fits perfectlyinto our age of seeking ”correctness” in all things.

The ”OpusBach” project, however, deliberately takes a different path. For as inspiring as it may be to interpret Bach‘s music under quasi-historical conditions, such an approach neglects to some extent the innovator and the genius concerned with every kind of progress, which Bach undoubtedly was: a musician who always participated in the latest developments, especially in the field of instrument building. Think only of the ”Well-Tempered Clavier”, with which Bach became the first person ever to pay a composer’s tribute to the newly introduced equal temperament. In the same way, he took a lively interest in the development of the fortepiano and was also involved in furthering modern playing techniques, such as the thumb-under technique or the virtuoso use of the organ pedal. Against this backdrop, the use of a modern organ seems entirely legitimate; an instrument which in the best sense deserves the title ”universal organ” because it is – unlike the above-mentioned historical instruments – suitable for the interpretation of many styles, from Baroque to German Romanticism and French symphonic organ music, right through to the musical present. In 2011, the Rieger-Orgelbau GmbH elaborately reorganized the predecessor organ of St. Michael in Munich and added a ”German swell”. The present Rieger organ of the church with its 75 stops, distributed over 4 manuals and pedal, is a fascinating instrument, also for interpreting Bach. In addition to clearly defining principal stops, aliquot mixtures and characteristic reed pipes, it has those ”mild” and sensitive timbres which are also proven to have been of great importance to Bach in performing his music.

Matthias Keller (Translation: Laura Park)