Aureole etc.

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Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685 - 1750)
German Organ Mass (BWV 522, 669-689) from Klavierübung Part III (1740)
Ronald Frost, clavichord, and organ
Recorded at Church of St. Ann, Manchester, England, April 2002
Notes in English

ORDERS: 2 CD set £17-00 + 95p p&p, from Dunelm Records, 2 Park Close, Glossop, Derbyshire SK13 7RQ (e-mail: ; web site ).

Comparison recordings: Ton Koopmann, Anthony Newman, Michel Chapuis, Lionel Rogg.

Organist Frost performs this work with a new twist, grouping the three-manual organ works together between the Prelude BWV 522/a and the Fugue BWV 522/b (Sometimes called "the St. Anne" for no good reason*) to provide a version of the Organ Mass for large organ. Then he plays those parts of the music suitable for two manual organ (or two hands on a single keyboard) on the organ and/or clavichord as an appendix on the second disk, again between the prelude and the fugue, to provide a version of the Mass as it might be heard in a church with a smaller two manual organ. Those who wish to program their cd players to present the music in the original published sequence will thus find it convenient that the Fugue repeated at the end of disk two. Frost omits the four duets (BWV 802-805) which were included in Klavierübung III, but are generally not considered to be part of the organ mass, although Harry Halbreich writing in the notes to the Chapuis recording suggests that they could represent the four Gospels.**

Ronald Frost achieves something truly remarkable hereóhe plays the organ lyrically, and makes this music sound easy to play, which it most certainly is not. The other organists to whose recordings I compared build musical interest through a variety of contrasting registrations, some of them abrasive, even bizarre. Frost uses a smaller range of registrations and focuses attention on the musicís melodic qualities. Let it be said, he presents this music as it is used liturgically at St. Annís. To underscore this, the liturgical application of each piece is indicated in the margin of the notes. Since that is how the music was originally intended, it is a perfectly valid way to approach it. But there is nothing "churchy" in this performance, in fact due to the sounds of the individual voices being more equal, it is easier to hear them all at once and to perceive the contrapuntal structure of the music than it is when one voice is highlighted on a nasal or reed stop, as is often the case with other organists. The comparison recordings are all analogue, so Frostís digital sound is clearly the best, not too close, not too reverberant, the individual voices clearly audible. There is some slight wind noise.

Frostís tempi are generally midway between extremes. For instance on the Prelude BWV552/a, Anthony Newman clocks in at 7.22, Michel Chapuis at 8.10, Ton Koopman at 9.25, Lionel Rogg at 9:36óand Frost at 8.32. On BWV 673, the timings are: Rogg 1.38, Frost (organ) 1.33, Frost (clavichord) 1.19, Koopman 1.09, Chapuis 1.09, Newman 0.52. Although the specific ranking changes, Frostís tempi remain in the middle of the range. Frostís performances on the clavichord are all faster than his performances of the same works on the two organ manuals.

This set is also unusual in another way: at least the review copy disks were recorded individually on CDRs and the notes and disk labels were printed individually on a computer printer. This allows the production of disks exactly as the demand arises, a low capital investment approach that makes it feasible for individuals (and churches) to operate their own record labels. It seems that these disks will be sold in the Church souvenir shop along with other disks of organ recitals. There is no reason to feel that CDRís are significantly less durable in normal handling than regular pressed CDs, although our Alsatian was once able to cause a recorded CDR to delaminate in the process of his chewing it to bits.

I owned a clavichord and struggled to play it for thirty years and know that the clavichord is all but unplayable and virtually unrecordable. A number of famous keyboardists have produced for reputable recording companies some awful clavichord recordings which do not begin to approximate the actual sound or experience of playing this instrument. Keyboard training on the modern piano is not the best approach to the clavichord; performance on the Japanese koto would be more to the point. Like the koto, the clavichord is capable of portamentos and free vibrato which allows one to play a singing line of almost vocalic purity and grace. The sound should arise from the strings effortlessly. But most modern clavichord recordings are full of clang and clatter, the uncontrolled waveriness of tone simply sounding sour and out of tune. For these reasons, I believe that only by synthesizing the sound can the experience of playing the claivichord be reproduced on disk. Ronald Frost is as good a performer at the clavichord as Ralph Kirkpatrick and Thurston Dart were. If someday a true clavichord virtuoso arises, he or she will startle the record buying public by producing a sound only clavichord owners have ever heard or even imagined before.

The organ at St. Annís was rebuilt and enlarged in 1995-1996. With typical stiff-upper-lip British reserve, there is a brief note in fine print to the effect that the terrorist bomb attack which destroyed several large buildings in downtown Manchester on 15 July 1996, "delayed" the re-installation of the rebuilt organ due to the ancillary decoration of the Church, located only a few blocks from the center of the blast, having to be "repeated."

*As with many of Bachís works, the main overall motive of the Prelude is Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern, so perhaps it is not inappropriate that it begin a mass.

**Spitta, Schweitzer, Schmieder, et al have questioned the presence of the four duets, but they are no more out of place here than the Prelude and Fugue. If the one is included, why not the other?

Paul Shoemaker

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