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GRAMOPHONE (12/2022)
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Harmonia Mundi

Code barres / Barcode : 3149020944813


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Reviewer :
Patrick Rucker

The chorale prelude has so long been established in our musical culture as a stand-alone organ piece that its origins are obscured. Yet the chorale prelude, as practised by Scheidt and Sweelinck, through Buxtehude and Böhm, and culminating with Bach, originally functioned precisely in Protestant worship as its title implies: as an instrumental introduction, usually improvised, based on a chorale tune that was subsequently sung by the congregation. For the two CDs comprising the seventh volume of his traversal of the complete keyboard works of Bach for Harmonia Mundi, Benjamin Alard offers the 45 chorale preludes of the Orgelbüchlein. He plays them on the 2009 Quentin Blumenroeder organ at the Temple de Foyer de l’Âme in Paris, and each prelude is followed by the chorale on which it is based, sung by one of two ensembles: the children’s choir of the Maîtrise Notre-Dame de Paris under the direction of Émilie Fleury and the Ensemble Vocal Bergamasque under Marine Fribourg. The effect, both individually and collectively, is stunning.

To cite some more familiar examples, following the chromatic florescence of the prelude Nun komm der Heiden Heiland, BWV599, the chorale speaks with reassuring simplicity and assurance. The prelude to the Passion chorale O Mensch, bewein’ dein’ Sünde gross, BWV622, reinforces the feeling of gentle, even tender, solace. Jesu, meine Freude, BWV610, is extended and elaborated by its prelude in a way so organic that the prelude and chorale combined seem an integral, indivisible artwork.

In his booklet notes, Alard writes that recording the Orgelbüchlein was a voyage of discovery both for himself and for the singers, elucidating expressive potential that familiarity with only the preludes or only the chorales could not. Some of that joy of discovery is inescapable listening to these thoughtful, understated yet deeply felt performances.



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