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Bine Katrine Bryndorf (Organ)

Cristina Garcia Banegas (Organ)

Peter Sykes (Organ)

Three Recent Recordings of Bach's Leipzig Chorales, Part 1


Part 1
Part 2




Edition Bachakademie Vol. 97: Organ Works - Leipzig Chorales

Chorale Prelude (Fantasia super) Komm, Heiliger Geist, BWV 651 [5:22]
Chorale Prelude Komm, heiliger Geist (I), BWV 652 [9:14]
Chorale Prelude An Wasserflüssen Babylon (I), BWV 653 [5:11]
Chorale Prelude Schmücke dich, o liebe Seele (I), BWV 654 [6:50]
Chorale Prelude (Trio super) Herr Jesu Christ, dich zu uns wend (I), BWV 655 [3:58]
Chorale Prelude O Lamm Gottes unschuldig (II), BWV 656 [7:50]
Chorale Prelude Nun danket alle Gott, BWV 657 [3:48]
Chorale Prelude Von Gott will ich nicht lassen, BWV 658 [3:27]
Chorale Prelude Nun komm der Heiden Heiland (II), BWV 659 [4:20]
Chorale Prelude (Trio super) Nun komm der Heiden Heiland (I), BWV 660 [2:30]
Chorale Prelude Nun komm der Heiden Heiland (IV), BWV 661 [2:47]
Chorale Prelude Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr (I), BWV 662 [7:27]
Chorale Prelude Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr (III), BWV 663 [6:23]
Chorale Prelude (Trio super) Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr, BWV 664 [5:31]
Chorale Prelude Jesus Christus, unser Heiland (II), BWV 665 [4:10]
Chorale Prelude Jesus Christus, unser Heiland (IV), BWV 666 [3:05]
Chorale Prelude Komm, Gott Schöpfer, heiliger Geist (III), BWV 667 [2:23]

Bine Katrine Bryndorf (Organ) [Wagner Organ, 1741]


Oct 18-22, 1999

2-CD / TT: 84:21

Recorded at Nidarosdom, Trondheim, Norway.
Buy this album at: |


Achtzehn Choräle BWV 651-668

Leipzig Chorales, BWV 651-668

Cristina Garcia Banegas (Organ)
[Trost Organ of Waltershausen (1740)]


July 1999

2-CD / TT: 102:58


The Leipzig Chorales

Leipzig Chorales, BWV 651-668

Peter Sykes (Organ)
[The Organ at Lanholtskirkja, Reykjavik, Iceland (1999)]


Sep 1999

2-CD / TT 89:27

Part 1

Donald Satz wrote (November 7, 2001):
There's a little history to the Leipzig Chorales that needs relating. These pieces were conceived during Bach's Weimar years and later revised toward the end of his life. At the time Bach passed away, only 15 chorales were in his own hand. Two additional chorales were arranged by his son-in-law Johann Christoph Altnickol. The 18th chorale was never intended for the Leipzig series and was left incomplete after the first 26 bars. Given these circumstances, Bine Katrine Bryndorf, a young Danish organist, decided to omit BWV 668 from her recording. Regardless of historical accuracy, I find Bryndorf's decision an odd one which can only dampen sales of the set.

Cristina Garcia Banegas is Professor of Organ at the University Music School of Montevideo and also directs the vocal ensemble "De Profundis". Banegas has even conducted Bach's St. Matthew Passion. Peter Sykes has a number of recordings to his credit including an organ transcription of The Planets by Holst; he is currently Director of Music at First Church in Cambridge, an instructor at the Longy School of Music, and a member of the faculty at the New England Conservatory.

For comparison purposes, I'm using the complete sets from Hans Fagius on BIS, Christopher Herrick on Hyperion, Peter Hurford on Decca, Werner Jacob on EMI, Kevin Bowyer on Nimbus, Ton Koopman on Teldec, and Lionel Rogg on Harmonia Mundi. In addition, a few other recordings of selected chorales will be used when applicable.

Fantasia super Komm, Heilger Geist, BWV 651 - Majestic and driven in nature, this Pentecostal tribute to God is an energetic Fantasia with a sixteenth figure stretching upward throughout the piece; the cantus firmus is in the pedal. The contrast between the sustaining pedal and the sixteenth figure is totally compelling, and I think of BWV 651 as an explosion of life's energy and spirit. For this explosion to be fully effective, the sixteenth figure must be well-defined and projected on a continuous basis as it weaves its way through the music's fabric.

The Hurford and Rogg versions are my favorites; each has incisive detailing of the sixteenth figure and each explodes into my psyche. Bryndorf gives one of the fastest performances I know and could be viewed as a 'race to the sun'; there were a few times when I thought that Bryndorf might lose her grasp on the rhythm, but she manages to hold it together. The reading is rather low on majesty, and there's nothing special about the detailing of the sixteenth figure. Overall, Bryndorf is in the middle of the pack. The same applies to Peter Sykes who is also quite fast and low on detail.
I do want to emphasize that Bryndorf and Sykes give very exciting performances.

Cristina Garcia Banegas is very slow with formidable majesty; at no time is the performance sedentary or lacking forward momentum. Although I still prefer Rogg and Hurford, Banegas is a fine alternative.

Komm, Heilger Geist, BWV 652 - A second setting of the same chorale and melody as BWV 651, this piece is a mediation having a courtly sarabande rhythm. There is also a ceremonial element, and the embellished melody needs to ring out. This is such interesting music as Bach miraculously injects subtle diversity within a precise contrapuntal architecture. Timings of various recorded versions range from under eight minutes from Herrick and Bowyer to the eleven minute reading of Werner Jacob.

The quicker versions tend to be emotionally 'light' and possess little of the meditative aspect. However, Herrick is a fine choice for those preferring a quick performance; his flow is smooth and enticing. Peter Sykes is even faster than Herrick, clocking in at seven minutes. Although quite enjoyable, the performance is too light with no time to meditate, savor, or much of anything else. This music offers more than Sykes seems to believe it does.

With the speedy folks out of the way, let's concentrate on some great peformances which I break down into the intimate and the ceremonial categories. There's not a better intimate version than from Hans Fagius; his meditations are deeper and more incisive than anyone else's. For a ceremonial performance, the very slow Jacob is exceptional; he never drags as he takes us to the heart of royal proceedings.

Benegas and Bryndorf join Fagius and Jacob at the top. Benegas is even more intimate than Fagius. Not quite as incisive, she offers the most soothing and lovely version I know. Bryndorf is essentially a quicker version of the Jacob model; she's absolutely majestic and strong. I should add that each of these four versions has an irrestable pulse and strongly delivered embellished melody.

An Wasserflussen Babylon, BWV 653 - Also having a smooth sarabande rhythm, this piece is Israel's lament for being exiled to Babylon. As with most laments, I tend to have a problem with very slow performances unless they have some majesty injected. Banegas is very slow and intimate; although lovely, it seems to go on forever. Peter Sykes shaves a minute off the Banegas reading without losing one iota of sadness and grief; his flow prohibits any dragging quality. Bryndorf is on the quick side and very effective, although her chorale melody is disappointing in its lack of vibrancy.

Overall, I find that Sykes is in the same high position as Albert Schweitzer on Pearl, and they provide excellent contrasts: Schweitzer is majestic, Sykes is intimate. Unlike the first two Leipzig chorales, Mr. Sykes holds down the speed and creates stunning results.

Schmucke dich, o liebe Seele, BWV 654 - Similar to the previous chorale arrangement in having a smooth sarabande rhythm and ornamented melody; BWV 654 has the cantus firmus in the soprano and is about as beautiful a piece of music as Bach wrote. Again, I find the most pronounced difference among the various versions to be the initmate vs. ceremonial approach. Bine Katrine Bryndorf is absolutely majesterial as she constantly streches to music to reach comfort and peace. The slowly moving and heartfelt Sykes and the even slower Benegas give intimate portrayals which must yield slightly to the more poignant Peter Hurford.

Update: I feel I'm getting a fairly good idea of the approaches used by Bryndorf, Sykes, and Banegas. If any of them is going to inject ceremony and stature into the music, it will be Bryndorf. She also has a wonderfully distinctive organ at her command.

Peter Sykes started off too fast but has certainly slowed down in the last two chorale arrangements. His readings are on the intimate side and create some mystery and lovely phrasing. Banegas is also quite intimate and as slow paced in these works as any other recorded artist. Both Sykes and Banegas perform on exceptional instruments well suited to their styles.

Trio super, Herr Jesu Christ, dich zu uns wend, BWV 655 - This piece provides a nice contrast to the previous two; it is quick, light in texture, bouncy, and relatively exuberant. Two of my favorite versions are from Herrick and Rogg. Herrick has delightful registrations and an infectious rhythm; Rogg, with a relatively full texture, makes the music a swirling and joyous experience. Bine Katrine Bryndorf joins this twosome with an effervescent performance sounding as if the trumpets are heralding in a new dawn.

Sykes performs very well without leaving any particular memories. I do have memories of the Banegas reading. Her texture is paper-thin with little exuberance exhibited; also, mechanical noises from her organ are quite pronounced. This is the first performance from Benegas which does not fully satisfy.

O Lamm Gottes, unschuldig, BWV 656 - In three verses, this may well be the most spiritually uplifting chorale in the set. That's definitely how Koopman plays the work - very slowly at over nine minutes with a soaring and intense faith. Although under seven minutes, Rogg applies the same approach as Koopman although with less intensity and majesty. Peter Hurford speeds things along to the tune of under six minutes; majesty goes out the window but is replaced with an irresistable rhythmic flow and high excitement.

Peter Sykes, using an average tempo, takes the majestic approach very effectively, but there's more substance to Koopman's performance. Cristina Garcia Banegas is as slow paced as Koopman but more relaxed and soothing than soaring; it's a nice reading that misses some of the ardor of the music. Intensity is what I find lacking in Bryndorf's reading, sounding a little like a run-through. Sykes is the best of the three, but Koopman reigns supreme.

Nun danket alle Gott, BWV 657 - A glorious tribute to God, exceptional versions range from Hurford at four minutes to Koopman and Weinberger at five apiece; their common bond is to fully convey the music's majesty, ceremony, brashness, and jubilation. Versions like Werner Jacob's, Lionel Rogg's, and most others have contours which are too rounded to bring out the work's special character. This also applies to the smooth readings of Sykes and Banegas. Ms. Bryndorf is a step up in sharpness although her fast tempo tends to make me feel she takes the subject too lightly. None of the three versions comes close to the best available.

Von Gott will ich nicht lassen, BWV 658 - The cantus firmus is in the pedal with the three manual voices engaging in dimunition; this can create quite a throbbing rhythm. Hans Fagius gives a workmanlike performance with minimal throbbing and thin textures; his urgency is low and I frankly find the performance on the inconsequential side. Switch to Kevin Bowyer and hear a steady throbbing and greater poetry as well. Bowyer and Fagius each take about three minutes to perform the piece; Herrick extends to four minutes with reduced throbbing and increased melancholy. It's a fine approach which rivals the Bowyer reading. Another excellent four minute plus performance comes from Peter Hurford which is more optimistic and kind than Herrick.

The above sets the stage for our three subject artists. One would think the Banegas version to be in the four minute category, and she does follow through accordingly. Her reading is also soft-toned and intimate; any sense of fervor is slight as is my response to the performance. To my ears, Banegas is no more substantial than Fagius. Sykes is also quite intimate but does introduce some pathos. Bryndorf ushers in a throbbing rhythm, but she bounces around in too light a manner which continues a similar treatment displayed in BWV 657. She needs to dig deeper into the music. As with BWV 657, there are no prize performances from the three new issues.

Update: Bryndorf was breezing along well ahead of Sykes and Banegas, but the last two chorales find her surprisingly glib from the view of emotional depth. Still, I have been enjoying her performances more than those from the other two artists. Both Sykes and Banegas tend toward more intimate and softer performances which often miss the grandeur of Bach's music.

Part 2 will cover the remaining chorales of the Leipzig series. I must say that the listening experience has been great. These chorales are among Bach's finest and also possess a greater range of diversity than most of his other chorale treatments.


Continue on Part 2

Three Recent Recordings of Bach's Leipzig Chorales: Part 1 | Part 2

Complete Bach's Organ Works on Hänssler: Recordings
Short Biographies:
Bine Katrine Bryndorf | Pieter van Dijk | Kay Johannsen | Martin Lücker | Andrea Marcon | Wolfgang Zerer
Early Bach Organ Works from Andrea Marcon (A. Marcon) | “Scales from Weimar” (M. Lücker) | Five Recordings of Bach’s Orgelbüchlein (W. Zerer) | Bach Organ Transcriptions from Pieter van Dijk (P.v. Dijk) | Three Recent Recordings of Bach's Leipzig Chorales: Part 1 | Part 2 (B.K. Bryndorf) | “Late Organ Works from the Leipzig Period” (M. Lücker) | Bach’s Trio Sonatas for Organ from Johannsen and Lippincott (K. Johannsen) | Bach Great Organ Mass by Kay Johannssen (K. Johannsen)

Instrumental Works: Recordings, Reviews & Discussions - Main Page | Order of Discussion
Recording Reviews of Instrumental Works: Main Page | Organ | Keyboard | Solo Instrumental | Chamber | Orchestral, MO, AOF
Performers of Instrumental Works: Main Page | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z


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