DEFINITIVE RECORDINGS
Johann Sebastian Bach - Leipzig Chorales


JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH - LEIPZIG CHORALES BWV 651-668 - TOCCATA, ADAGIO 7 FUGUE IN C MAJOR - LORENZO GHIELMI (Organ) - Passacaille 954

The manuscript of the Leipzig Chorales was established during the last ten years of Johann Sebastian Bach's life. It demonstrates his uncanny ability in elaborating a simple chorale melody into something quite extraordinary. The liner notes to this CD explain that Bach's attention not only to the melody but also to the words of the chorale makes these compositions among the most charged with theological and symbolic meaning of his entire organ music production. These organ pieces seem to be not only a prelude to congregational singing, but actual musical sermons on the deeper meaning of the chorales. I must say that they are far removed from his famous Toccatas and bold Preludes, but expose Bach's genius on a completely different level. Although they are miniatures lasting anywhere from two to ten minutes, using mostly the softer stops of the organ, they nonetheless display an intricate and highly developed level of harmonic structure and a masterful sense of motivic development, unheard of in organ literature.

The organist in this recording, Lorenzo Ghielmi has published several essays on organ building and on performing Bach's music. His approach to these late works is not only scholarly and technically precise, but is also musical and demonstrates his deep knowledge of the instrument and his keen logical use of certain stops to further enhance the music's message.

The instrument itself is the Ahrend Organ of the Basilica of San Simpliciano in Milan. Although it is relatively small at about 30 stops, it does in fact have a 32' stop in the pedals. It is a bright instrument, but nonetheless includes some beautifully mellow stops that are perfectly matched and balanced to each other, and in the hands of Lorenzo Ghielmi, its combinations always produce a sound that enhances the music at hand. It's a new recording just released in September 2009 that I would highly recommend to both Bach and organ fans alike. This double disc set is very nicely packaged and includes excellent booklet notes. The small independent label Passacaille always aims for excellence and I believe they have hit the bullseye in this recording.

Jean-Yves Duperron