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Tall Poppies

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Bach for Christmas

John O’Donnell (organ)
Recorded on a 1980 Jürgen Ahrend organ at Robert Blackwood Hall, Monash University, October 2003 except the Canonic Variations, recorded June 1996
TALL POPPIES TP166 [73.44]

Pièce d’Orgue (BWV 572)
Vom Himmel hoch da komm ich her (BWV 700)
Vom Himmel hoch da komm ich her (BWV 738)
Vom Himmel hoch da komm ich her (BWV 701)
Vom Himmel hoch da komm ich her (BWV 606)
Vom Himmel hoch da komm ich her (BWV 769)
In dulci jubilo (BWV 608)
In dulci jubilo (BWV 729)
Christum wir sollen loben schon (BWV 696)
Christum wir sollen loben schon (BWV 611)
Pastorella (BWV 590)
Puer natus in Bethlehem (BWV 603)
Vom Himmel kam der Engel Schar (BWV 607)
Wir Christenleut (BWV 710)
Wir Christenleut (BWV 612)
Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ (BWV 697)
Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ (BWV 604)
Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ (BWV 722)
Der Tag, der ist so Freudenreich (BWV 605)
Jesu, meine Freude (BWV 610)
Jesu, meine Freude (BWV 713)
Lobt Gott, ihr Christen, allzugleich (BWV 609)
Lobt Gott, ihr Christen, allzugleich (BWV 732)
Wie schön leucht’t uns der Morgenstern (BWV 739)



Consistently inventive, colourful and, even more to the point, enjoyable, this disc handily collates all Bach’s Christmas music on a single CD. There are caveats; as John O’Donnell admits not all these pieces were necessarily written for the divine services and the opener, the Pièce d’Orgue (BWV 572) is a case in point, even though it’s clearly festive and employs the same material as Bach used in one movement from his Christmas Oratorio. And the Pastorella makes it by virtue of being a Christmas genre, though it seems to have had no known liturgical connection.

Such details aside one can but admire O’Donnell’s sensitivity, technical address and consistently thoughtful choice of registrations. Everything is alive and apt and the programme is adroitly chosen, divided into groups in partial emulation of the kind of service at which Bach would have played – opening with a prelude and ending with a fantasia or fugue and in between chorale based works. Here therefore we have five different and consecutive settings of Vom Himmel hoch da komm ich her each of them independent and imbued with its own distinctive sound world and response. The contrasting settings of In dulci jubilo and Lobt Gott, ihr Christen, allzugleich embody the same qualities and differences. I was particularly taken by the fughetta for manuals in Vom Himmel hoch da komm ich her, BWV 701, and the fifth of the settings here, the great Canonic Variations, where the fluidity of the music is matched by the mellow 4’ Spitzflöte and oboe. O’Donnell chooses registrations with great textual ear – and it’s good that he ensures that they are printed in the booklet where one can, if one wishes, follow him at work.

The four-movement Pastorella is another of the highlights, full of springy textures, where O’Donnell proves light and aerated, as indeed elsewhere – the first setting of Lobt Gott, ihr Christen, allzugleich, for instance – he shows himself powerfully in command of the more dramatic and leonine aspects of the music.

Sound is warm and mellow and the Jürgen Ahrend organ proves a most adaptable instrument – and this seasonal conspectus proves equally to be a winning collection.

Jonathan Woolf

see also review by Chris Bragg


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