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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Clavier Übung III
Lutheran Mass for Organ
Kei Koïto, organ
Chorales sung by:
Agnès Mellon, Andreas Scholl, Gerd Türk and Ulrich Messthaler
Direction: Dominique Velland
Rec: May 1994, St. Nicholas of Bovenker, Kampen, Netherlands.
HARMONIC H/CD 9352-53 [113.17]
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Bach’s Lutheran Mass for organ was his first published set of organ works, and the most extensive publishing adventure he initiated. It is a collection of preludes and chorales, based on hymns, and includes several settings of the Kyrie and Gloria. What is unique about this work - written as a compendium rather than a performance score - is that it was intended to provide organists with a variety of material that can be performed on either a large organ or a smaller positive organ (the sections marked manualiter, which means they can be played with the hands only). This heterogeneous set of works is not so much meant to be performed, but is designed so organists can choose which works they wish to play within a mass structure.

This recording is unique because not only does it include the organ works, but also sung versions of each of the chorales, giving the listener even more variety. Some of the chorales are played in three different ways, and, with the sung versions, this gives four ways of listening to the same musical material.

The set opens with one of Bach’s greatest preludes for organ, BWV 552 in E flat major, which is a vast, large-scale work ending with a fugue. Koïto plays this work with taste, and does not overdo it - which is all too easy with such a work.

Koïto’s touch is much lighter with most of the chorales, whether written for large organ or for manualiter. Chorale BWV 674 is a fine example of her delicate balance between force and detail, where she brings each of the voices alive, in this fugal chorale, through very well-chosen registration.
Sample 1: disc 1 - track 10 0’00

Koïto is most appealing in her performance of the more delicate pieces, such as Chorale BWV 675, an almost pastoral trio sonata. (Note that she has recorded one of the finest performances of Bach’s trio sonatas for organ, also on Harmonic.) Again, she brings out all the detail and color in works like this, and her registrations let the music sing out, rather than having it obstructed by the force of the organ.

The chorales sung by four singers add a distinctive touch to this recording. Similar in idea to Jean-Charles Ablitzer’s recording of the Orgelbüchlein (also on Harmonic), where tenor Ian Honeyman sings the texts of each of the chorales, this recording works much better. The voice of one singer alone is very stark, but here the sound of the four singers - SATB - gives variety to this set. Since Bach’s organ chorales are based on hymns (chorales), hearing the original sung version gives a better understanding - one that listeners of his time had from their deep familiarity with these works - of how Bach adapted this music for the organ.

This is a very satisfying recording of this work, and indeed one of the best available. Kei Koïto is a brilliant performer who knows how to let the music take center stage, rather than the organ, and the addition of the sung chorales is an added plus.

Kirk McElhearn



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