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  Bach: One of a Kind

William Porter


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The Organ Magazine   
February 2001


This is a landmark release from Loft recordings. William Porter, professor of organ at New England Conservatory and well known as an inspiring and sensitive teacher, provides an object lesson to would-be Bach interpreters about musical application of performance practice techniques. His success lies in his combination of understanding and execution of the figures and motives which make up Bach’s music, together with his own personal approach. This is real organists’ playing, and as such playing which may not appeal to non-musicians, such is the intensity of his music making.

Of course the other huge factor in this immense recording is Paul Fritts’ wonderful new organ at PLU. Primarily designed as a North German inspired instrument – albeit with a partially French Romantic influenced Swell – its marvellously weighty choruses, prompt, smooth Pedal reeds, transparent flutes, and idiomatic solo registers mark this out as the work of a genius organ builder, and one for whom a UK commission cannot come quickly enough. It rolls around the ample – though adjustable – acoustic of the Lagerquist Concert Hall in awe‑inspiring fashion, in the process proving itself an exceptional vehicle for Bach’s music.

Everything about Porter’s playing is expansive, taking as its starting point historically informed tempi and then taking time to expressively point up each figure. In some ways comparison with Wolfgang Rübsam’s approach on Naxos seems appropriate, though Porter’s playing is less mannered and to my ears more convincing. One is always aware that each nuance of his playing is geared to a musical end, even the large E minor Prelude BWV 548 is played on a single Principal stop on the Rückpositive, “not” says Porter in his outstanding programme note, “based on any conviction that the piece must be so registered, but solely on the way the singing quality of the eight-foot Principal of the Rückpositive allows the pathos of the large scale Prelude to speak with immediacy and intensity”. The result is unquestionably convincing.

Overall, it is unusual to hear a player who, even through the most unlikely methods, can transmit the weight and structure of the large scale pieces to his audience with such profound effect. Equally in the smaller scale chorale preludes, Porter gets under the music’s skin in every way and the beautiful flutes and solo colours, in particular the Rückpositive Nasat, Dulcian and Prestant respond to great musical effect.

The synoptic specification, shown below, more than demonstrates the richness of the Fritts organ.  The action is suspended mechanical with a dual mechanical/electrical stop action, with solid state combinations and sequencer.  The wedge bellows afford a flexible wind, which can be stabilised or not, as desired.  The temperament is after Kellner.  The imposing case of Douglas Fir, with hand carved Basswood pipe shades is absolutely stunning.

Gt:            16,8,8,8,8,4,4,22/3,2,V,V-VII,16,8,8

The booklet also contains an excellent essay about the organ by the builder and former university organist David Dahl together with full specification and some excellent photographs. The recording by Roger Sherman is absolutely first rate.

Admittedly there are one or two untidy moments, and I’m not sure as to the purpose of Porter’s registration changes in the Passacaglia; surely Fritts’ plenum is fine enough to withstand the entire piece being played on it, as Bach would surely have intended had he played the work on the organ. But this in no way spoiled my enjoyment of and admiration for this wonderful recording. With so many complete Bach cycles currently being released, some of comparatively rather dubious merits, one wonders whether William Porter will get the opportunity to record what would be a hugely significant ‘complete Bach’.

Fanfare Magazine

These are probing and deep performances, several movements of which are especially memorable…For instance, Porter registers the E-minor Prelude and Fugue (BWV 548) on a single eight-foot principal stop of the wonderfula dn deep-throated Paul Fritts organ of Pacific Lutheran University. That quirky and compelling choice of registration…allows the hearer to go beyond the glorious cacophony of tone typifying the organ’s ensemble, to the absorbing and transcendental beauty of the work laid bare. For those who derive the greatest satisfaction in concentrating deeply on Bach’s harpsichord scores, or the partitas and sonatas for solo violin or cello, this performance carries the same allure. The contrast to partner fugue, played on a reedy tutti, is stunning.

Magazine Orgue


Satisfied to be on the right side of the Atlantic, I have rarely wanted, on listening to an American recording, to buy a ticket for the States. Thus it must be noted: the Fritts organ…makes me want to give a listen in the state of Washington…A magnificent plenum with authoritative reeds and very fine foundations gave me a lot of pleasure. Not an ordinary recording.




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