JS Bach: Chorale Partitas

Stephen Farr (organ) (Renonus)

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JS Bach
Chorale Partitas
Stephen Farr (organ)
Resonus RES10234   55:46 mins


For his first all-Bach disc Stephen Farr turned to the chorale preludes gathered together in Clavier-Übung III. This sequel is similarly chorales-indebted, but covers what, to many, will be less familiar territory. It comprises four sets of chorale partitas with which the young composer honed his skills in the arts of variation, motivic elaboration, embellishment and long-term planning – early prototypes for that masterpiece of his last years: the Canonic Variations on Von Himmel hoch.

It’s a bold idea to programme them back-to-back, though perhaps a little self-defeating. Consumed at a sitting they can sometimes make for an austere listen, despite Farr’s best efforts to ring the changes with artful registrations that revel in the resources afforded by a substantial three-manual house organ completed along French Baroque lines by Bernard Aubertin in 2015. (Bach would particularly have applauded Farr’s ingenuity in transposing up and down an octave to enlarge an already generous flutey palette).

The best is saved for last. Bach’s variations on ‘Sei gegrüsset, Jesu gütig’ self-evidently operate at a higher level of inspiration, and generate a rewarding cumulative momentum crowned by a finale blazingly delivered with reserves of firepower hitherto kept under wraps. The joyously intricate dialogue of Variation five and jaunty swagger of Variation eight are especially infectious, and an antidote to sundry movements dotted across the other partita sets that tend towards the didactically cerebral. That said, Farr’s intellectual rigour is indispensable, abetting performances that are pre-eminently clear-sighted, articulate, and inquisitive.


Paul Riley