Bach: Chorale Preludes

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LABELS: Winter & Winter
WORKS: Chorale Preludes
PERFORMER: Quartetto Italiano di Viole da Gamba, etc
CATALOGUE NO: 910 053-2
Bach composed organ chorales throughout his life. Based on the words and melodies of traditional Lutheran hymns, their purpose was chiefly liturgical, although Bach sometimes employed them in other contexts too – as pedagogical pieces, for example, or as material on which to improvise.


Today we listen to this music outside of its original liturgical setting, admiring its artistic rather than its religious qualities. This CD could be seen as taking that process a step further: 27 chorales, many from Bach’s early Orgelbüchlein, have been transcribed for gamba quartet, stripping away even the ‘churchy’ associations of the organ sound. The results are startlingly beautiful – a music rich in texture yet austere in timbre, a chiaroscuro study in the gamba family’s dark sonorities. Particularly striking are a trio of poignant, sombre pieces – ‘Liebster Jesu, wir sind hier’, BWV 731, ‘O Mensch, bewein’ dein’ Sünde gross’, BWV 622, and ‘Allein Gott in der Höh’ sei Ehr’’, BWV 662.


Yet Luther’s ghost still haunts this disc. Soloists from the Tölz Boys Choir appear on five tracks, reminding us of the music’s religious function. And since word-painting was a vital component of Bach’s instrumental artistry, this music, however, reconfigured, cannot help but evoke its liturgical origins. Graham Lock