The Organ


Michael Ferguson at the Schantz Organ of St Leo the Great, St Paul, Minnesota
2CDs, 1hr 34'00"

Should Bach's Art of Fugue be considered a work written for organ? Organist Michael Ferguson attempts boldly to answer the conundrum that has fascinated many a keyboardist since its posthumous publication by Johann Sebastian's son Carl Philipp Emanuel in 1751. Whenever I think of fugue, I'm drawn to Bach and the organ, so the title Art of Fugue does conjure up an association with JS's favoured instrument - a simple notion, I agree. Ferguson's research and reasoning for the work's acceptance for organ, however, is heavily detailed in the expansive notes that drive a lively and enlightening debate that is both entertaining and convincing.

Ferguson's playing upon the 1985 built Schantz organ found in the Church of St Leo the Great, St Paul, Minnesota, USA, does much to prove the point and proves him a worthy practitioner of Bachian performance, though, for as much as the first disc is compelling, I feel his argument sinks a little in the mirror fugues on the final disc, which, in the choice of registrations, particularly Contrapunctus 13, Inversus and the following Canon, simply do not match up to Bach's normal dimensions found in a work where the scoring is specifically laid out for "God's" instrument.

I listened several times to Michael Ferguson's completion of Contrapunctus XIV and as clever a conclusion he gives us, and as convincing its stylistic qualities are as it grows organically from the Bachian stem, ultimately, I sensed its hybrid status - perhaps Ferguson's contention could have been better served on a Silbermann instrument or one of similar ilk. But if one is to end an argument with something persuasive to back-up the evidence, then Ferguson's gallant attempt justifies your layout of sterling; after all, this is a disc of fine erudition and performance practice and, of course, you do need this work on organ and in your Bach collection. Check the Birolius website for more details of the recording and how you can order your copy.