> A Bach Album: Sackbutts [KM]: Classical CD Reviews- July2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
A Bach Album

Sinfonia, after BWV29/1 [3'36]
Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu dir - chorale melody [1'07]
Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu dir, after BWV686 [3'56]
Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu dir, after BWV38/1 [3'49]
Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu dir, BWV687 [4'20]
Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu dir (verse 5), after BWV38/6 [1'05]
Allein Gott in der Höh’ sei Ehr, after BWV715a [2'10]
Verschiedene Canones, BWV1087 [7'03]
Meine Seele erhebet den Herren, after BWV648 [2'19]
O Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht, BWV118 [8'23]
Wenn wir in höchsten Nöten sein, BWV432 (verses 1, 2) [1'24]
Wenn wir in höchsten Nöten sein, after BWV641 [2'02]
Wenn wir in höchsten Nöten sein, BWV431 [0'55]
Vor deinen Thron tret ich, after BWV668 [4'11]
Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland (verse 1) [0'32]
Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland, after BWV659 [4'42]
Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland (verse 3), after BWV36/8 [0'36]
Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland, after BWV660 [2'28]
Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland (verse 5), after BWV62/6 [0'35]
Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland, after BWV661 [2'49]
Sei Lob und Preis mit Ehren, after BWV29/7 [1'43]

His Majestys Consort of Voices
His Majestys Sagbutts and Cornetts
directed from the organ by Timothy Roberts
Rec: November - December 2000, Church of St Jude-on-the-Hill, Hampstead, London.
HYPERION CDA 67247 [61.08]


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This recording is a curiosity. As the name of the ensemble suggests, this is a group of musicians who play sackbuts and cornets, together with voices and organ, trumpets, timpani, cello and violone. The main music, though, is played by cornets and sackbuts.

It is always difficult for such "non-mainstream" ensembles to find a sufficiently interesting repertoire, and they naturally choose to transcribe music to fit their forces. One need not enter the debate about transcribing Bach - he did so for a great deal of his own music, so the issue seems closed. But here, a group of limited variety has attempted to present a disc of music that corresponds to their instruments.

They have not really succeeded in providing a great deal of music - looking at the track list, you can see that many works are presented in various versions (which represent the different uses Bach made of the same pieces). There are chorals from the cantatas, or for organ, in some cases sung by solo voice, in others played on solo organ, or played by instruments alone, and in others a combination of voice and instruments. While this gives the disc a thematic limit - hearing the same music in different versions and for different forces - it is also the strength of this recording. Bach’s music exists on a variety of planes, and the same piece played on different instruments can give a radically different result. Listen here to the basic chorale Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu dir sung by bass Robert MacDonald. Its austerity and simplicity are magnificently interpreted, and the emotion of this sacred song shines. But when it is heard for 2 cornetts, 4 sackbuts and organ, the tone changes, providing a new facet of the music. The same goes for the solo organ version - which represents Bach’s own "transcription" and the other versions from cantata BWV 38.

Not all of the music works for this ensemble - the opening sinfonia, after BWV 29/1, is unbalanced because of the contrast between the loud brass instruments and the very soft organ. And the performance of Allein Gott in der Höh’ sei Her, after BWV 715a, is so wooden it sounds like a student practising. The sound of the cornet and sackbut, in this piece, are not very attractive. Yet, overall, the music works very well. One of the most interesting pieces is the Fourteen Canons BWV 1087. This is a series of short canons found in Bach’s personal manuscript of the Goldberg Variations, which follow the bass notes of the aria of this work. The arrangement here is quite interesting, and makes one yearn for this group to record Bach’s Art of Fugue.

This disc is a unique journey through some of Bach’s sacred music, with, as guides, an ensemble which takes an original approach to the music and comes out a winner. While one may be skeptical of such an experiment at first, the results are stunning. This is certainly one of the most interesting "derivative" Bach albums I have heard in a long time.

Kirk McElhearn


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