Bach’s organ music illuminated by Nicholas Grigsby on new organ at St Paul’s Lutheran

Lecture-recital “Variations on J.S. Bach: The Lutheran Chorale Partita and Fresh Perspectives on the Enigma of a Musical Genius”

Nicholas Grigsby (organ)

St.  Paul’s Lutheran Church

Sunday 9 May, 5pm

Nicholas Grigsby is Director of Music at Wanganui Collegiate School, and a fine organist.  This event was obviously designed to showcase the brilliant new two-manual organ at St. Paul’s Lutheran church.  It is a small but incisive instrument.

Grigsby covered only the early years of Bach’s career, and illustrated his talk with illustrations from archives and published scores, as well as at the organ.  He stated that Bach must have taken on board many influences in his youth.  Part of a long lineage of musical Bachs, some of whom would have been important influences, he nevertheless is known to have gone to great lengths (literally) to hear noted composer-organists of his day.  Examples of some of these people’s compositions were played.

The first was by Nicolaus Bruhns, who died at about the time J.S. Bach was born. Prelude and Fugue in E minor was brilliant music.  Next was Georg Böhm’s Chorale Prelude Vater unser in Himmelreich. Not nearly as showy as the Bruhns work this was beautifully played; a delicate piece with lovely ornamentation.

Reincken, whom Bach went from Lüneburg to hear in Hamburg, was mentioned, but not played.

From Lüneburg Bach moved to Arnstadt, and from there he walked to Lübeck to hear Buxtehude play.  Archival photos showed us the Marienkirche that stood in that city (and its organs) until bombed in 1945.   Buxtehude’s Fugue à la Gigue was refreshing; as Grigsby said, “like taking a shower in the morning”.  The registration of flutes, with pedals only at the end, was delightful.  This work was followed by the same composer’s Prelude, Fugue and Chaconne, which in contrast, opened with pedals only.  Taken at a brisk pace this was a very satisfying sequence of contrasting movements.

During his brief time at Mulhausen following Arnstadt, Fugue à la Gigue, which Grigsby played next, may have been written (though Grove calls it ‘spurious’). Bach and his family then moved to Weimar.  It is possible that the Variations on ‘Sei Gegrüsset, Jesu Gütig’ were written at Weisenfels, where the Weimar court had its winter residence.  Both palaces had large and excellent organs.  Bach had time at Weimar, with a generous employer, to write a lot of music.
The Variations began solemnly, featuring good phrasing and articulation from the organist, though at the beginning the rhythm was occasionally a little wayward.  There was admirable contrast in registrations between the variations.  The full organ sound at the end made the organ sound like a much bigger instrument.

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