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Chorales as treated by Bach
newly recorded


Two of Bach's organ collections have recently appeared on CD with choral interludes: Orgelbüchlein and Clavier-übung III. The English production of the first collection centres on Cambridge, with the Metzler organ in Trinity Chapel and The Cambridge Singers. The other collection is from Holland with the Netherlands Bach Society and the Bader-Timpe organ in St Walburgischurch, Zutphen.

J S Bach's Orgelbüchlein. Copyright (c) 1999 Merlin RecordsAnne Page plays the OB on Trinity's Metzler with her unfailing skill and musicality, which always pitches her playing to the needs of the music. Needs may be counted as inevitable, yet the organ demands of a player a decisive feel for a particular instrument, and an interpretative decision compounded of the organ, its resources, and the acoustic in which it is heard. (Click for extract: 'O Mensch bewein'.) My one complaint here (but not addressed to Anne Page) is a grouping of three Easter preludes requiring similar registration. By the middle of the second piece sound has become intrusive, thus tiring the ear (Disc 2, tracks 2, 3, & 4 - which has three verses).

My other regret - rather than complaint - is the decision to choose choral interludes from known seasonal music and only occasionally to pair a chorale and prelude. No doubt a pattern of sorts was followed, but the result is indecisive and fails to concentrate on the OB's purpose. This CD set now resembles an organ recital with the choir dropping in a few solos.

Notwithstanding reservations, we are here involved with Bach's incredible sound pictures based on seasonal chorales, many of them short yet still creating the mood of a church season. The recorded sound of this fine organ is close but very clear.(click for extract: 'Heut' triumphiret'.)

Kyrie, Gott Vater in Ewigkeit. Copyright (c) 1999 Channel Classics.The Dutch recording of Bach's Clavierübung III has no time or space restrictions, and recreates Bach's craft and invention throughout this collection's stupendous achievement. The framework within which the preludes are housed is the E flat Prelude and Fugue, the subject of which matches the opening line of Croft's hymn tune St Anne. Its quality equates the same concept and sweeping magnificence of just two or three of the best large-scale organ Preludes and Fugues, of which each of us chooses to taste.

The Bader/Timpe organ was restored and reconstructed in 1996, well filling a large building without drowning itself in washes of resonance. Leo van Doeselaar plays with due reverence to Bach's demands and chooses a suitable registration for each movement, plus a tempo that gives the varying textures time to have effect without failing an appropriate speed.

I find this almost to perfection in Vater unser im Himmelreich (BWV 682) (click for extract) and yet, for instance, Hurford's lively speed for Christ unser Herr (BWV 684) on his complete Bach set is only possible in a muffled acoustic setting for a small instrument of modern action and just a few ranks, which leaves Doeselaar standing - yet with musicality intact from his unfailing sense of movement and momentum. The majesterial power of the Bader organ is likewise glorious in such a rich contrapuntal mix as befits Aus tiefer Noth (BWV 686) at a well-judged pace.(click for extract)

The Netherlands Bach Choir is an immaculate group of 25 singers providing mostly pre-Bach settings of the tunes he treats. (Click for extract: Scheidt 'Vater unser'.) This complements the organ chorales to perfection. This two CD set is also well documented and annotated in the booklet. Likewise the Merlin set of the Orgelbüchlein, but not to the same length or standard.

Copyright © Basil Ramsey, September 25th 1999


Bach Orgelbüchlein / Anne Page: CD information

Great Organ Mass / Leo van Doeselaar: CD and purchase information

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