Bach: Songs from Schemelli’s ‘Musical Songbook’: Little Organ Mass

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COMPOSERS: Bach
LABELS: Philips
WORKS: Songs from Schemelli’s ‘Musical Songbook’: Little Organ Mass
PERFORMER: Peter Schreier (tenor), Ton Koopman (organ/keyboard), Jaap ter Linden (cello)
CATALOGUE NO: 434 083-2 DDD
The prominence given to the name Bach on the cover of this disc is understandable but misleading. Georg Christian Schemelli’s Musicalisches Gesangbuch of 1736 was a vast collection of hymns and arias designed for use in the Lutheran Church; the contributions (69 tunes in all) received from Bach were in most cases merely figured basses added to existing melodies by other composers.

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Peter Schreier’s selection of 22 of these includes a few which have made it into common use in the English Church, such as ‘O Jesulein süss’ (O little one sweet) and ‘Jesus, unser Trost und Leben’. Occasionally Bach makes his presence felt in an unexpected harmonic twist; but for the most part the music is an unpretentious solo line over discreet continuo.

With any other singer, this consistency of style over so many numbers – all with two or three verses – might prove monotonous. But the unforced beauty of Schreier’s voice utterly disarms such criticism. In Ton Koopman and Jaap ter Linden he has ideal partners; and the former’s lucid accounts of ten short items from Book 3 of Bach’s Klavierübung (also written with the Lutheran liturgy in mind) serve well to break the songs into short groups. Ideal listening for a long winter evening.

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Stephen Maddock