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Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)

Sonatas & Chorales

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Recording details: October 2005
National Centre for Early Music, York, United Kingdom
Produced by Philip Hobbs
Engineered by Philip Hobbs
Release date: October 2006
Total duration: 57 minutes 57 seconds

'The Leipzig Collection' explores the music of Bach's Leipzig and includes the complete trio sonatas as well as some beautiful arrangements of chorales.


'The much-loved Palladian exuberance bursts forth in two Leipzig chorales, silvery high recorder clearly differentiated from violin, and Rodolfo Richter provides a refreshing change of timbre with a solo violin sonata, BWV1021. There are magical colours elsewhere too: the dark chromatic line of low recorder in 'Das alte Jahr', the gamba obbligato of 'Wachet auf' with recorder chorale melody, quieter than most organists would register it, but nonetheless highly effective' (BBC Music Magazine)» More

'Before I listened to it, I wasn't sure that I was going to like this recording, which is of mainly well-known music by Bach transcribed and arranged by the Ensemble themselves for the 'wrong' instruments, but I was totally convinced by the lovely performances on this CD … perfect music for Easter, or indeed any other time' (Early Music Review)» More

'Two months ago I bumped into a group of people at the Perth Festival who were emerging from a morning recital by the Palladian Ensemble which had included much of the music on this CD, their latest. The folk had stars in their eyes, and, as one of them said to me—rather memorably—'balm in the soul'. What the wonderful Palladian group had played included a perhaps unlikely set of transcriptions of some of Bach's chorales, superbly and effectively arranged for recorder, violin, viola da gamba and guitar. These featured several of the best-known chorales, including 'Wachet auf' and the Leipzig. The discreet intimacy that is evoked in this music, and in the Trio Sonatas that feature on the disc, makes for the most exquisite private listening experience and outlines, with indisputable clarity, why the Palladian Ensemble is just about peerless in this repertoire' (The Herald)

Not only Bach’s liturgical music, whether vocal or instrumental, but his entire output can be seen as an extension of his religious beliefs, and the proof is not only in his correspondence and other writings but in his compositional procedures, relying as they do less on architectural mapping and more on generative and heuristic formulae. One such formula concerns the art of transcription, where it almost becomes a moral duty to explore every conceivable possibility inherent in the score. Bach would have seen it as moving closer to God. A secular approach would be to see it as being authentic to the spirit of the music.

Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr and Herr Jesu Christ dich zu uns wend are from the collection known as the Leipzig Chorales, owing to its having been put together in the eponymous city; the works were originally composed during Bach’s period as court organist in Weimar between 1708 and 1717. The Schübler Chorales BWV645–650, so-called after the student Georg Schübler who published them in 1748, are largely transcriptions for two-manual organ with pedal from Bach’s Leipzig cantatas. Kommst du nun, Jesu, von Himmel herunter? comes from Cantata 137, Lobe den Herren, den mächtigen König der Ehren; the well-known Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme is from Cantata 140. The chorale prelude Das alte Jahr vergangen ist dates from the first decade of the eighteenth century, when Bach was organist at Arnstadt (1703-07) and Mülhausen (1707-08).

Bach wrote the six trio sonatas BWV525–530 in Leipzig during the late 1720s for the musical instruction of his son Wilhelm Friedemann, although he drew on material composed earlier. As with all of Bach’s works ostensibly suggesting a mere pedagogical intent, these pieces also allowed him to explore and synthesise various styles and idioms. In these works, Italian ritornello form is married to the rich polyphonic tradition of the North; the textures of the trio sonata as chamber music are transferred to the manuals and pedal of the organ.

In addition to Bach’s duties as cantor of St. Thomas’s school and music director of the four city churches (St. Thomas, St. Nicholas, St. Paul and the New Church) in Leipzig during the period 1723-1750, he also (in 1729) took over the running of the Collegium Musicum. The Collegium, which met weekly at Zimmerman’s coffee house, comprised students and gifted amateurs who placed themselves under the directorship of professional musicians such as Bach; together they performed the latest music, instrumental, chamber, orchestral or vocal. Two such works, for which Collegium performance materials survive from the mid-1730s, included the sonata in G for violin and continuo BWV1021 and the sonata in G for two flutes and continuo BWV1039. The violin sonata, the manuscript (written in Anna Magdalena Bach’s hand but bearing bass figures and other markings by Bach himself) of which only came to light in 1928, shares the same bass line as the sonata for flute, violin and continuo BWV1038; its texture is quite clearly that of a trio sonata. Bach later reworked the sonata for two flutes as a gamba sonata. It’s also worth mentioning that one of the guest musicians to have performed at the Bachische Collegium Musicum (as it was known) was the famous lutenist Sylvius Leopold Weiss – making it not unrealistic that the sonatas might have been performed as arranged on the present disc.

William Yeoman © 2005

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