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Johann Sebastian BACH
Organ Chorales from the Neumeister Collection, BWV 714, 719, 742, 957, 1090-1095, 1097-1120.
Kay Johannsen
recorded on the Trost-Organ, in the Stadtkirche Waltershausen - 15-18/5/99
Hanssler CD 92.086 (2 disc set) [1'26"46] DDD

Crotchet .

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.

John Phillips

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