Bach’s Missing Pages – An Expanded Orgelbüchlein

Sietze de Vries (organist and presenter)
rec. 2022, organs of the Martinikerk, Groningen and Petruskerk, Leens, The Netherlands
Fugue State Films FSFDVD016 [DVD: 223 & 2 CDs: 141]

Johann Sebastian Bach’s Orgelbüchlein BWV 599−644 consists of 45 chorale preludes for organ, with one of them in two versions. They were penned between 1708 and 1717 when the composer was organist at the ducal court in Weimar. The original plan was for 164 chorale preludes which would span the Church’s liturgical year. In the event, the project remained incomplete. These Lutheran chorales are short pieces and in four parts, with some canons thrown in. At the start of the DVD the organist Sietze de Vries, armed with a facsimile edition of the Orgelbüchlein, explains the work, showing the viewer the completed pages and the many blank pages in the latter part of the book. His aim is to perform all of Bach’s 45 completed chorales, then improvise the chorales of the missing pages.

The release consists of two CDs featuring all of the music performed without commentary, and a DVD with extensive commentary by de Vries around the performance of the music. Two beautiful instruments are harnessed for the project – The three manual organ of the Martinikerk, Groningen and the two manual organ of the Petruskerk, Leens. De Vries holds a post as organist at the former.

I’ll focus my review on the DVD which lasts for a total of 223 minutes and is divided into seven parts. Parts 1-3 cover the chorale preludes 599-624. In Parts 4-7 we have Bach’s remaining chorale preludes interspersed with de Vries’ improvisations. The film moves freely between chorales from one instrument to the other throughout.

De Vries intersperses the preludes with insightful commentary. I found his discussion of the North German organs that Bach was familiar with extremely interesting. He showcases each instrument’s stops and conjures up some wonderful registrations perfectly suited to the character of the particular chorale under discussion. De Vries is an academic and lecturer with several publications to his name, and I did find some of what he said highly technical. It should certainly be better understood and hold more appeal to organists.

The outside camerawork is stunning, with drone panoramic views of both churches. Inside, cameras pan around both venues, focusing on the beautiful architecture. The instruments are indeed impressive in their respective settings. De Vries is captured from various angles performing the chorales and in discussion. We get the odd glimpse of his virtuoso pedal work.

The discs are housed in a sturdy gatefold. The booklet includes scholarly notes by de Vries, in addition to some well-produced colour photographs of both instruments. Specifications of both organs are included. There are a couple of facsimile reproductions from the original Orgelbüchlein. All told, this is a remarkable achievement.

Stephen Greenbank

DVD details
Region-free NTSC DVD
1 x dual layer DVD9. 16X9 Widescreen
Stereo and 5.1 Surround
Language: English