Concertos for Organ and Strings; Sinfonias from Cantatas BWV 75 & 156
Bart Jacobs (organ); Les Muffatti
Ramée RAM 1804 79:59 mins
Bach’s 1725 concert on the new Silbermann organ in Dresden’s Sophienkirche attracted much local critical acclaim, particularly for the ‘various concertos with sweet underlying instrumental music.’ None of these survive, but from the mists of Saxony, Bart Jacobs and Les Muffatti reconstruct four concertos and three sinfonias, entirely plausible candidates for Bach’s impressive recital. Their evidence, from stylistic similarities to manuscripts with evidence of transposition and precedents in other concertos, is compelling and, post tactical transposition, instrument substitution, and source amalgamation, the results are alluring.
Have no fear of obscure repertoire though: clothed in different keys and contexts, popular favourites just keep coming. Naturally movements from other keyboard concertos, such as BWVs 1052, 1055 and 1058, convert well, as do sinfonias from Cantatas 169, 146 or 29 that already featured obbligato organ.
Given the lack of performance directions on any extant solo organ parts, it’s open game in choosing registration, manuals, or realising figured bass. Bach may actually have known the Thomas Organ in the Church of Our Lady and St Leodegar, Bornem and Jacobs makes full use of its transmissions, letting loose his creativity and flair for colour across an array of stop combinations. His mellifluous lines have a vocal quality and turn on a sixpence into virtuosic extravaganzas. Combined with the lush sounds of Les Muffatti, especially enhanced by retaining their harpsichord, gravitas alternates with drive.
If I yearned for greater whimsy, dynamic, or rhetorical variation from the strings, especially in robust ritornellos, these are certainly energetic and precise performances.