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Johann Sebastian BACH
A Book of Chorale-Settings: Passion
Helmuth Rilling Bach-Collegium Stuttgart Sibylla Rubens, Soprano Ingerborg Danz, Alto James Taylor, Tenor Andreas Schmidt, Baritone Gerhard Gnann, Organ
hänssler CD.92.79 [79:16]

A Book of Chorale-Settings: Ascension, Pentecost and Trinity
Helmuth Rilling Bach-Collegium Stuttgart Sibylla Rubens, Soprano Ingerborg Danz, Alto James Taylor, Tenor Andreas Schmidt, Baritone Gerhard Gnann, Organ hänssler CD 92.080 [78:42]

These two discs are part of the hänssler complete Bach edition (numbers 79 &80), recorded by Helmuth Rilling after finishing his series of the sacred cantatas of JS Bach in 1985. They are actually volumes 2 and 3 of a sub-series recording the composer's chorale settings, and while both have a booklet which is near identical, bar the texts, volume 2 presents music meditating on Christ's Passion - the crucifixion, suffering and redemptive sacrifice - volume 3 on settings for Easter, Ascension, Pentecost and Trinity. Both discs are extremely lengthy, offering as much music as is possible to pack onto a CD, and very similar in character, featuring the same performers offering a range of Bach's choral song. There are 44 pieces on the Passion disc (including chorales of the St. Mark Passion), 28 on the Easter, Ascension, Pentecost and Trinity programme.

Chorales are Protestant hymns, of which, in many different guises from organ settings, through his cantatas, oratorios, passions and motets, Bach wrote somewhere in the region of 400. Following the hymnbooks of Bach's time, the music recorded on these discs is compiled according to its use around the Protestant church calendar. The notes by Elizabeth Graf explain:

"What we wanted to do was arrange the four-part chorale settings according to these hymn schedules… The vocal origin of all the hymn arrangements is uncontested, therefore they are performed in our recording in a way familiar to us from the cantatas, passions, etc…"

Thus, while around half the pieces may be familiar from longer works, the remainder are free-standing pieces which are largely unknown; though at least some almost certainly originated in now lost cantatas and other sacred pieces. The reason we have these is that Bach's chorales were so popular that even in the composer's lifetime, they were extensively collected, the first anthology produced by one of the composer's music students, Johann Ludwig Dietal in the mid-1730s. The result is a series of albums drawn from music ranging across Bach's work, arranged by the nature of the text.

Elizabeth Graf says: "So if this is not an audio reference book - could it be an audio hymn book?" Actually, these albums are both: valuable archive documents, and living hymn books. From the point of view of a purely musical experience, of course Bach did not intend anyone to listen to 44, or even just 28, of his hymns in continuous succession. In fact he did not intend some of this music for passive listening at all, but for congregational singing. And that, depending on what use you intend to put these discs, may be a problem. The singing, playing and recording are all of a high standard, and every effort has been made to provide variety through the choice of sequencing and the vibrancy of the performances, yet these are ultimately albums either to dip into or to use for reference. The very nature of the programmes leads to inevitable repetition, even in the hands of a composer as divinely inspired as Bach.

Of course, taken in their original context as worship music, these pieces should reward those Christians who have ears to hear; the least of Bach being infinitely more musical and uplifting than the trite MOR that is the low ebb of current popular Christian music.


Gary. S. Dalkin

Both discs -


Gary. S. Dalkin

Both discs -

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