Johann Sebastian BACH
Organ Chorales from the Neumeister Collection, BWV 714, 719, 742, 957,
recorded on the Trost-Organ, in the Stadtkirche Waltershausen - 15-18/5/99
Hanssler CD 92.086
(2 disc set) [1'26"46] DDD
This set is Volume 86 in the EDITION BACHAKADEMIE, jointly produced by Hanssler
Classics and the Internationale Backacademie Stuttgart. They are releasing
a comprehensive edition of the complete works of J.S. Bach over the past
12 months which when completed, will run to over 170 discs. This issue may
therefore be seen as part of a scholarly collection, but don't let this put
you off. The only drawback to a release such as this is relative monotony
of a large number of similar pieces one after the other, but of course the
same criticism applies to all discs of this kind.
There are 34 chorale preludes on this set, and whilst it would be highly
unlikely for each and every one to be a masterpiece, I have yet to come across
any work by JSB which doesn't hold some interest for the listener.
The Neumeister Chorales are a relatively recent find, being unearthed by
a Harvard Bach scholar Christoph Wolff in Yale University in 1985. He found
a collection of a large number of chorale preludes in manuscript form, and
on further inspection found that 34 of these were by J. S. Bach. The collection
also contained other composers' works, and the whole had been compiled by
Johann Gottfried Neumeister (1756-1840). This collection had passed through
a few other collectors, arriving at Yale in 1873, where they had lain
undiscovered for over 100 years.
Here they are now, played by a highly accomplished soloist, in a sympathetic
acoustic and recorded in first class digital sound.
The chorales come in different guises, some fughettas, fantasias, canons,
bicinium, four part chorale setting and chorale fugue. This means that there
is at least some variety when listening to these two discs straight off,
but the registration used by Kay Johannsen is somewhat similar in most of
the chorales and so an opportunity for further variety is lost.
All of these works were written before 1710, and so they are relatively early.
Bach's contribution to the Neumeister set, unlike the pieces written by other
composers around the same time, come in the various forms mentioned above.
The variety is such that it leaves you with the impression of a composer
setting out his stall, showing the contemporary listeners just what may be
achieved with an art form like this.
Often Bach organ recitals can become staid due to rhythmic inflexibility
and recitalists need to be aware that this can become soporific for the listener.
Happily, in this recital these criticisms are wholly absent, with Kay Johannsen
giving us variety within each piece so that the interest is maintained. The
similarities in the registration between the pieces is not as big a problem
as with each of the chorales being short and to the point, we can move on
if it becomes a problem.
So, what we have here on the face of it, is an academic issue, which gives
us the opportunity to hear organ chorales of Bach which are not too commonly
available in a modern recording, which gives much pleasure admirably played
on a well sounding instrument with minimal background intrusion, the minimum
of mechanical noise and a full bodied clear recording. Allied with this there
are very comprehensive notes in German, English, French and Spanish which
enhance this issue.