Bach: Leipzig Chorale Preludes BWV 651, 652, 653, 654, 655, 656, 657, 658, 659, 660. 661

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COMPOSERS: Bach
LABELS: ISIS
WORKS: Leipzig Chorale Preludes BWV 651, 652, 653, 654, 655, 656, 657, 658, 659, 660. 661
PERFORMER: Martin Souter (organ)
CATALOGUE NO: CD 007 DDD
One often hears North European organs loudly proclaimed as historic 17th- or 18th-century instruments, only to discover upon closer examination that, after centuries of well-intentioned (or otherwise) intervention by organ-builders, they only faintly resemble the original product. But to encounter an organ whose tonal scheme has been largely untouched since the 17th century, and is also in a physical condition worthy to record, is remarkable.

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The 1695 Schnitger organ which Martin Souter and producer Edward Horn discovered in the Dutch town of Noordbroek, near the North German border, is an instrument to melt the coldest of hearts, and a perfect match for the varying moods of Bach’s ‘Leipzig’Chorale Preludes, here recorded over two discs. The range of emotions expressed within this collection runs broad and deep, from the exultant Preludes ‘Komm, Heiliger Geist’, to the intense anguish of ‘Jesus Christus, unser Heiland’. The two-manual organ possesses some fine flute and reed stops which help draw out the meaning of the texts on which these pieces are based: the utterly beguiling Vox humana reflects the deepest sorrow in ‘An Wasserflüssen Babylon’. In general, Martin Souter plays with great expressive freedom. This works well in the slower pieces, but the same approach sounds studied and tentative in the more overt ‘Nun danket alle Gott’. The second disc also includes a fine account of the six ‘Schübler’ Chorale Preludes of 1746, the Dulciaan reed stop used to great effect in ‘Wachet auf’. Stephen Haylett