Preludes I, BWV 599-644 ‘Orgelbüchlein’
Stephen Farr (organ)
Resonus Classics RES10259 79:00 mins
JS Bach’s Orgelbüchlein (The Little Organ Book) represents his ideal of the chorale prelude in a manner that Albert Schweitzer aptly described as ‘the most simple imaginable and at the same time the most perfect.’ And the first thing to be said about Stephen Farr’s new recording is that it comes as close as any to such idealised perfection.
The 46 pieces were mostly written early in Bach’s career, during his Weimar years, and – by definition of music intended to celebrate days across the church’s calendar – were never designed to be heard together. Understatement is often the point of this music, but Farr is a serious, musicianly organist with an imagination for colour that ensures each of these gems gets its due. He may be unflashy compared with some players, yet he is never stern in the way that can make certain interpretations of this cycle wearying.
Recorded on an historically important instrument of Bach’s time in the Thuringian town of Waltershausen, some of the pieces may be sombre but they are never dark (‘Jesu, meine Freude’, for example). By contrast, there is a beautiful, tender flutiness to ‘In dulci jubilo’. Farr’s notes relate how this famously ‘difficult’ organ is ergonomically unfriendly, yet the physical effort tangible in some of the more imposing pieces (‘In dir ist Freude’) becomes part of the performance and the vibrant recorded sound. In short, here is the full spirit of Bach, both the musician and the man of faith.