Movement 1: Prélude: Allegro moderato e maestoso
Movement 2: Aria: Lento
Movement 3: Final: Allegro molto ed agitato
Both of the original Bach themes mentioned above refer to the sufferings of Christ, and the ‘motto’ motif of redemption happens to be shaped like a cross. The final (unintentional?) pun is that this same ‘motto’ theme, present and transformed in both works, appears in the ‘Transformation Scene’ from Parsifal when bread and wine are changed into Christ’s Body and Blood—the redeeming re-enactment of the Last Supper. This interpretation might not seem too far-fetched if we recall that Franck habitually left his organ bench during the Mass to kneel at this same moment of transformation.
In spite of the internal similarities, the two pieces have significant differences. Where the Prelude, Chorale and Fugue has a distinctly religious flavour, the Prelude, Aria and Finale seems more secular (the Chorale a divine song, the Aria a human one); and where the former work is universal in its message, the latter seems almost domestic, though no less spiritually serious. The Prelude, Chorale and Fugue has a tremendous unity, a feeling of magnetic inevitability which almost pulls it forward to its triumphant close; the Prelude, Aria and Finale is more like a sonata in three separate movements, although the thematic material is profusely and masterfully interconnected throughout the work. The ending, in contrast to that of the Prelude, Chorale and Fugue, is profoundly tranquil and peaceful, the ‘motto’ theme not so much representing a victory over evil as a healing of pain.
from notes by Stephen Hough © 1997