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Early Music

Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Peace Be With You: Cantatas, Motets and Organ Works

Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit (Actus Tragicus) (S.106) (1707) [17.18]
Prelude and Fugue in G (S.550) (1706-08) [7.25]
Der Friede sei mit dir (S.158) (date unknown) [10.38]
Toccata, Adagio and Fugue (1708-17) [16.42]
Jesu meine Freude (S.227) (1723) [23.14]
Jesu, der du meine Seele (S.78) (1724)[24.03]
Singet dem Herrn (S.225) (1726/27) [13.39]
Prelude and Fugue in Eb (S.552) (1739) [18.20]
Gloriae Dei Cantores
Gloriae Dei Instrumental Ensemble
David Chalmers (organ)
Sharon Rose Pfeiffer (organ)
Elizabeth Patterson (conductor)
rec Methuen Memorial Music Hall, Methuen, Massachussetts, USA in October 1999
GLORIAE DEI CANTORES GDCD 028 [2CDs: 75.17+56.02]


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Despite its threateningly saccharine title, this is a mixed bag of demanding music by Bach to mark the 250th anniversary of his death. There are solo organ works interspersed amongst accompanied and a capella choral works from this Cape Cod-based choir of forty singers ‘between 18 and 60 from a wide variety of occupations, denominations and musical background’. It appears to be a disciplined group, clearly well-drilled by a deceptively grandmotherly and benign looking lady with a ready smile and obvious enthusiasm for her task. The standard of both playing and choral singing on this double album is mostly creditable, but there is disappointment in the solo arias in which technically taxing melismas are threatened with loss of control, while high notes are too often unsettlingly strained. Marking out the lines of Bach’s vocal music has to have a sense of direction, with points of arrival and departure on the way, and above all avoiding any purposeless meandering, making these shorter choral works incredibly hard to shape. An exception, however, is the singing of the delightful duet ‘Wir eilen’ for soprano and alto accompanied by cello and harpsichord, in which both soloists here convey its sense of joyful eagerness with a delectable blend of tone. The performance by the choir of ‘Jesu, meine Freude’ is stylishly phrased and the German diction articulated with impeccable clarity (‘Es ist nun nichts’), if not always with accurate pronounciation (vowels such as the ‘o’ in ‘Trotz’). True there is some worryingly errant flattening of pitch and tight top notes have a vice-like grip on the sopranos’ throats in places. Bach could be cruelly demanding on the human voice, treating it more like a woodwind instrument or, worse still, like an organ stop with limitless supplies of air. In any event, this choir, particularly the tenors and basses, takes its own corporate name to heart and sings it all ‘to the glory of God’. The playing, in today’s authentic style, of the string and woodwind instrumentalists accompanying them is highly satisfying; the solos by leader, principal flute and oboe confidently assured.

The organ of the Methuen Music Hall was originally built for the Boston Music Hall and inaugurated in November 1863, purportedly the first concert organ in the United States. It was removed in 1884 to make more space for the orchestra, placed in store, and auctioned in 1897 by which process it found its way to its present site. It was so coveted by its new owner that, contrary to usual practice, a hall was designed to house it rather than the other way around. It was extensively reconstructed in 1947, with the addition of chorus reeds on the Great, and more recently given a solid-state combination action. It has a bright sound as treated here by its two players, their choices of registration occasionally too monochrome. Sharon Rose Pfeiffer is not entirely on top of the virtuosic passages in the Toccata, and takes a somewhat stodgy tempo for the Fugue, giving it a rather perfunctory ending. Of the three works here, the ‘St Anne’ Prelude and Fugue will be the most familiar. Once again the registration is rather unimaginative and the music lacks a sense of dance or energy in its forward progress. Perhaps the resonant acoustic makes the player wait to hear before moving on, producing a gradual slowing down in the Prelude. The fugue at least has an appropriate sense of grandeur.

Christopher Fifield

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