Johann and Juan at Poblet

Metzler organ, Poblet

“Each generation must look anew at this incomparable body of music, re-examine it in the light of contemporary knowledge, view it in a way relevant to its own attitudes towards music.”

Peter Williams

 

Thirty-five years after Williams wrote that phrase during his study of Bach’s organ works, taking a look back at his music is not only a moral duty for us, but a true necessity. We like to believe that this sentiment unites us all. As John Eliot Gardiner said, “[Bach] is the one who blazes a trail, showing us how to overcome our imperfections through the perfections of his music…”. Faced with the grandness of his work, Bach compels us, then, to revere it and at the same time to reread it looking for that perfection in the height of the 21st century. It is this attitude, at the same time reverent and active, which led Juan de la Rubia to record this disc.

 

Within organ music there is an underlying love triangle formed by the author, the instrument and the interpreter. In the case of this recording, the bond between the three elements is especially strong. The interest that Juan has for Bach has been a constant in his life and in his career. Bach’s works moved him even as a young boy and brought out his taste for and desire to devote himself to music. The third component, the Metzler organ in Poblet, built in 2012, is a fusion of sounds from both German and French baroque aesthetics. Frankly, it turns out to be just right for interpreting the music of the German genius, who in his time also blended the different styles of European music of his era. In our opinion, the Master of Thomaskirche would have greatly appreciated this organ had he been able to evaluate it, as he did with so many other instruments of his day.

 

Juan de la Rubia, then, proposes that we retrace the road that Johann Sebastian Bach indicates. What will we find this time? We discovered the answer to this question during the early mornings in which we recorded the CD.

 

Founded in 1151, Poblet is a Cistercian monastery located in the middle of the Prades Mountains (Tarragona, Spain). Just imagine: We arrive there leaving behind the noises and the haste; Brother Josep Antoni, monk and organist, welcomes us with full hospitality, appropriate to the Rule of St. Benedict.

 

Pere Casulleras, our tonmeister, displays his gadgets. He assumes the air of an alchemist reminiscent of Melquíades in One Hundred Years of Solitude. Out from one of the boxes emerges an old speaker. He rescued it from the demolition of a building in Hamburg and assures us it is the same model as that with which NASA heard Neil Armstrong say, “That’s one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind”. These days it will serve to communicate only between the organ console and the recording studio. Other more modern speakers will allow us to marvel at the sound that the spherical microphone captures as it listens to us at every moment in the aisle of the central nave.

 

Every night, at the conclusion of Compline, the basilica lies in darkness. The silence is absolute and the obscurity, total. There is something quite inspirational in that place. Today, the light that escapes from the organ console allows a glimpse at the grandeur of the pointed arches. At the opposite end, the altar and the altarpiece are mere suggestions. The music starts, and this cold, empty, dark nave begins to reverberate with all its history. Suddenly, that world we have left behind, in which everything is fast-paced, superficial, formed from tweets, WhatsApp messages and news headlines, seems to us so far away that one might say we have gone to another planet. It is only Melquíades, from the center of NASA’s Mission Control, who occasionally brings us back to reality through the speaker.

 

It might interest you to know that there is one work that initially was not supposed to be included in the CD, but that, without knowing very well why, captivated us just days before recording was to begin. The choral, Erbarm dich mein, o Herre Gott emanated from Juan’s fingers one afternoon and, hearing it resonate in Poblet, we couldn’t help but share it with you. As we began to record we turned off absolutely every light in the nave and lit two single candles. The sound seemed to rise up from every crack and crevice of the basilica. It is probably this very moment that Fran González is reflecting on the cover of the disc.

 

Bach sought perfection, even among opposition. He sought light in darkness, time in a schedule full of duties and responsibilities, peace in disorder… That night, Erbarm dich mein, o Herre Gott explained so much to us through its humility and the apparent simplicity that yet hides many shades. Interpreted and heard today, the music of the German genius shows us the greatness that humankind can achieve, it reminds us that we can always be a little better and it urges us to find that greatness that lies within ourselves.

 

The CD holds some of our love for Bach, some of the friendships woven around his music and some of that which so inspiringly reverberates in the crevices of the rocks and the innermost recesses of Poblet.

 

Pep Gorgori

(Translation: Beth Krynicki)

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