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Hope and Faith

J S Bach's
Leipzig Chorales -
reviewed by

'... the performances are exquisite.'

Bach: The Leipzig Chorales. © 2006 Stradivarius

Bach died on 28 July 1750. Almost exactly three years earlier he had offered his last great fugal work, Kunst der Fuge, to King Frederick, and from that time onwards occupied himself almost exclusively with the chorale. He first made a collection of six fantasias, known as the Schüblerschen Choräle after the engraver who produced the works before Bach died. Then followed a collection of seventeen Choräle von verscheidener Art with one incomplete piece, supposedly finished by his son in law Johann Christian Altnickol who assisted the composer's failing sight by copying out the pieces for him.

Though the compilation may lack the organic unity of his earlier keyboard collections, it does contain some extremely beautiful writing, and some chorale movements of impressive proportions -- the second of the two pieces on Komm, heiliger Geist ('Come Holy Ghost') is almost ten minutes in performance. It would seem that Bach wished to extend the form to the limits of its possible sustainability. The recording is arranged with great care, and the performances are exquisite. Each chorale is sung under the direction of Urban Stillhardt by the chamber choir Concentus Vocalis Griensis, and precedes the performances of the preludes and fantasias by Claudio Astronio.

There are three substantial fantasias on Allein Gott in der Höh' sei Her' ('Only to God on high give glory') [listen -- CD2 track 5, 0:00-0:16] of which the first is particularly beautiful [listen -- CD2 track 6, 0:00-1:10], and three on Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland ('Now come, saviour of the heathens') [listen -- CD2 track 1, 0:02-0:10], the second of which features the strong lower reeds [listen -- CD2 track 3, 0:00-1:02].

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Copyright © 17 October 2007 Patric Standford, Wakefield UK


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