J.S. Bach

Recommended (or not) Recordings

Complete Organ Works

Main Performer
or Conductor:
Peter Hurford
Individual Works:Volume 1:
Disc 1: BWV 540, BWV 550, BWV 548, BWV 531, BWV 549, BWV 532, BWV 565
Disc 2: BWV 564, BWV 561, BWV 533, BWV 551, BWV 591, BWV 538, BWV 585, BWV 542
Disc 3: BWV 572, BWV 579, BWV 583, BWV 535, BWV 562, BWV 577, BWV 537, BWV 576, BWV 575, BWV 581, BWV 570/BWV 946, BWV 598, BWV 582

Volume 2:
Disc 4: BWV 552a, BWV 669-BWV 671, BWV 676, BWV 678, BWV 680, BWV 682, BWV 684, BWV 686, BWV 688, BWV 552b
Disc 5: BWV 672-BWV 675, BWV 677, BWV 679, BWV 681, BWV 683, BWV 685, BWV 687, BWV 689, BWV 690-BWV 713
Disc 6: BWV 525-BWV 530

Volume 3:
Disc 7: BWV 766-BWV 770
Disc 8: BWV 771, BWV 645-BWV 650, BWV 730-BWV 740
Disc 9: BWV 592-BWV 597, BWV 726-BWV 729

Volume 4:
Disc 10: BWV 719, BWV 1090-BWV 1100, BWV 714, BWV 742, BWV 1101-BWV 1117
Disc 11: BWV 957, BWV 1118-BWV 1120, BWV 651-BWV 662
Disc 12: BWV 663-BWV 668, BWV 714-BWV 725

Volume 5:
Disc 13: BWV 553-BWV 560, BWV 534, BWV 584, BWV 536, BWV 541, BWV 589, BWV 568, BWV 580, BWV 539
Disc 14: BWV 546, BWV 567, BWV 578, BWV 588, BWV 569, BWV 574, BWV 590, BWV 571, BWV 587, BWV 547
Disc 15: BWV 566, BWV 563, BWV 543-BWV 545, BWV 1027a, BWV 545b, BWV 1079(BWV 5), BWV 535a

Volume 6:
Disc 16: BWV 599-BWV 639
Disc 17: BWV 640-BWV 644, BWV 741-BWV 748, BWV 751-BWV 752, BWV 754-BWV 755, BWV 757-BWV 763, BWV 765, BWV 620a, BWV Anh. 55, BWV 131a

+ various without BWV (The four duets BWV 802 - BWV 805 are NOT in this set)

Format:Compact Disc
Record Label:Decca
Catalog Number:several
Year Released/Recorded:1975-85
Total Playing Time:18 hours?
Comments:Martin Harvey said:

This is the earlier series of Peter Hurford's Complete Organ Works Quite difficult to get hold of.... no longer in production :((

SW Ng said:

Maybe contrary to the majority view, I don't think this recording is a good example of Peter Hurford's musicality. I think he plays many of the pieces too fast, and sometimes the registerations aren't quite right, sometimes changing manuals too often, or using rather small registrations for bigger works, though i must say that the recording shows the organist is technically very accomplished. I am sure if he does the recording again now, it would be much more satisfactory.

Andisheh Mahdavi said:

(Your entry says that this collection is hard to find).

I found the Hurford Complete Organ Works at HMV, and also on the web, at www.musicblvd.com, so it is now again generally available. For 17 CDs and such high quality, $112 is a fantastic deal. Most of the recordings are analog, but the transfer to compact disk was skillfully achieved, and the sound quality is very good.

Hurford's most obvious idiosyncracy is his choice of very "nasal" treble timbres on most of the organs whenever he plays the quieter works, such as the sonatas or some of the chorale variations; it's a surprising and not unpleasing tendency. He is also quite up to the virtuosity that the greater toccata and fugues and the greater chorale preludes demand.

James Shaerf said:

Peter Hurford has presented an entirely refreshing perspective that sheds new light on the immortal Bach organ works. Immediately his technique is impeccable and his natural articulation is wholly befitting to Bach's organ works, most notably the choral preludes.

Aside from his gifted musicianship, Hurford has used new, previously unheard registrations for the works. He treats each choral prelude differently and thus, removes the tendency for their all sounding the same. Although he makes extensive use of contemporary instruments, the registrations provide a wide range of colours. These range from the subtle and mellifluous flute-like textures to the more splashy reed sounds which he uses in the great toccatas. These new technical devices do most assuredly work.

Although his treatment of the six trio sonatas is not as percussive as those of his predecessors, they are still musically intact and all of their wonderful complexities are still clearly elucidated.

This set provides a fresh look and gives even more vitality to these great pieces. Hurford's efforts will run and run.

Andrew Short said:

My father and I think that this box set is very nice. Very clear sound and it looks like Hurford took his time to do it well. It is not boring like others can be. My father says that he understood the work and played them in a fresh way.

Guy Chapman said:

I am not an organist, but most organists I know would regard this collection as the definitive performance of Bach on the organ. Hurford's virtuosity complements Bach's, and the recordings are vivid and moving.

I freely admit to some bias here. I have been a fan of Peter's since I first met him at the St Albans International Organ Festival at the age of 17, and I find his style entirely to my taste. But don't just take my word for it, the Festival (which Peter co-founded) attracts many of the greatest figures in contemporary organ scholarship, and with past winners like Tom Trotter and Gillian Weir it has an impeccable pedigree. The most popular prize given in any Festival event which I can recall, was an autographed set of the Complete Organ Works. If you are a scholar of Bach, or if you want to experience something deeper than the two or three famous works on every compilation CD, then I urge you to buy this recording.

Hurford's style is somewhat individual, and he plays many pieces faster than is the current fashion, but in many cases this brings out different dynamics within the piece (the best comparison would be of his playing of Buxtehude's Praeludium in D, Bux WV 139, with a more modern recording - his is faster, but perversely more lyrical as a result).

And the incredible thing is that these recordings are really quite old now. That is, I think, my only criticism of them. Organ building, although an ancient art, has advanced in recent years, and his performance on a new Collins can in some cases be fractionally better. This is of course a matter of taste. De gustibus ne disputandum, as my mate Mike always says. In matters of taste there can be no dispute.

Acknowledgements:Thank you to the following for submitting this recording and for your comments:
  • Martin Harvey
  • SW Ng
  • Andisheh Mahdavi
  • James Shaerf
  • Andrew Short
  • Guy Chapman
Special thanks to Simon Crouch for providing the complete BWV numbers for this recording.
Date First Submitted:05/04/1998