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Hyperion Records

Click cover art to view larger version
Front illustration by Donya Claire James (b?)
Track(s) taken from CDA67767
Recording details: September 2008
Potton Hall, Dunwich, Suffolk, United Kingdom
Produced by Jeremy Hayes
Engineered by Tony Faulkner
Release date: September 2010
Total duration: 5 minutes 35 seconds

'Jonathan Plowright plays everything with calm, unforced assurance, nicely balancing Bach style and 1930s period manners, and making light of all the left-hand skips needed to suggest Bach's organ pedal parts. An immaculate recording and Calum MacDonald's detailed notes enhance the disc's appeal' (BBC Music Magazine)

'Every so often a CD comes along that I simply can't stop playing. Here's one such example … glorious interpretations by Jonathan Plowright' (The Observer)

'There are some gems here … this is an invaluable addition to Hyperion's Bach Piano Transcriptions series and Plowright has done us an enormous service in resurrecting these transcriptions and in rendering them so eloquently' (International Record Review)

Ach bleib' bei uns, Herr Jesu Christ, BWV649
circa 1748/9; Schübler Chorale No 5; arrangement of Cantata 6 movement 3
commissioned by Harriet Cohen and first published by Oxford University Press in A Bach Book for Harriet Cohen; first performed at the Queen's Hall on 17 October 1932

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
The jewel in the crown of the Bach Book is surely the second of the larger-scale pieces, Ralph Vaughan Williams’s glowing chorale and chorale prelude on Ach bleib’ bei uns, Herr Jesu Christ BWV649, the fifth of the ‘Schübler’ chorales. He is the only contributor to the Bach Book to have insisted on having the text of the chorale printed in the score, along with a translation by Robert Bridges (originally for The Yattendon Hymnal) which renders the opening line as ‘Now cheer our hearts this eventide’. Vaughan Williams had only recently composed his massive Piano Concerto, dedicated to Harriet Cohen, and she was not to give the premiere of that work until the following year, 1933. Already in 1928 she had introduced another work Vaughan Williams had written for her, his Hymn-Tune Prelude on Orlando Gibbons’s ‘Song 13’. Their correspondence in the years 1931–3 evinces a good deal of mutual affection, and this grand Bach transcription, at once stately and intimate, is further evidence of Vaughan Williams’s esteem for her.

Vaughan Williams described it as a ‘free transcription’, which is something of an understatement. Like Bax, he writes largely on three staves to accommodate a full, rich keyboard texture, and after a statement of the chorale the chorale prelude follows. Vaughan Williams adds a tenor part of his own to Bach’s work and greatly elaborates its texture, for example with anti-historical parallel triads in his inimitable ‘English pastoral’ manner and with dissonances not found in Bach—to increase the tension, but also the interplay of light and shade throughout the piece. The mildness of the dissonances is deceptive, for they lead to different contrapuntal conclusions and he even deletes whole bars and sequences of Bach in order to replace them with music of his own. He thus extends an ongoing line of descent from the sixteenth century, for BWV649 is in fact Bach’s own transcription of the first chorus in his Cantata No 6, ‘Bleib’ bei uns, denn es will Abend werden’, in which he derived his chorale melody from the alto part of a different chorale published in 1594 by Seth Calvisius (1556–1615), a distinguished predecessor as Cantor of the Thomasschule in Leipzig. The ‘evening’ associations of Cantata No 6 seem to have inspired Vaughan Williams to turn his ‘free transcription’ into a kind of nocturnal meditation that wrestles with doubt rather than the certainties of Bach’s faith.

from notes by Calum MacDonald © 2010

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