Bach: Leipzig Chorales, BWV 651, 652, 653, 654, 655, 656, 657, 658, 659, 660, 661, 662, 663, 664, 665, 666, 667, 668; Toccata in C; Passacaglia in C minor

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Bach
LABELS: Melba
WORKS: Leipzig Chorales, BWV 651, 652, 653, 654, 655, 656, 657, 658, 659, 660, 661, 662, 663, 664, 665, 666, 667, 668; Toccata in C; Passacaglia in C minor
PERFORMER: John O’Donnell (organ)
CATALOGUE NO: MR 301084-2
Bach’s ‘Leipzig’ Chorales were written at different periods throughout his life, and draw together some of his most intimate and profound workings in this genre. Bach displays his mastery of this form with wonderful contrasts of texture and mood and – most compellingly – his profound identification with the biblical texts upon which these chorales are based. Australian organist John O’Donnell takes a middle path in his recording of these works, and as such, I often found myself searching for a more clearly defined sense of his own personality in his playing. His tempi are generally on the moderate side throughout, and taken together with his rather no-nonsense attitude to phrasing and articulation, the results are more often than not bland and impersonal. For instance, a more sensitively shaped solo line in ‘Schmücke dich’ would have given the listener a keener impression of the poignancy of the chorale’s textual references, and laboured tempi in ‘Nun danket’ and ‘Von Gott will ich nicht lassen’ only serve to dampen the pieces’ high spirits. By comparison, Ton Koopman articulates the underlying emotion of these works with greater flair, and pairing each prelude with a sung version of the chorale adds a nice touch. Fortunately, the great tripartite Toccata in C and Passacaglia in C minor which frame O’Donnell’s programme find him in more inspired mood, the opening pages of the Toccata drawing some sparkling and virtuosic finger- and footwork from him, while the Passacaglia comes off particularly well. Stephen Haylett

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