Bach: Chorale Partitas BWV 766-768, 770

Floral design

Stephen Farr
resonus RES10234

Stephen Farr, whose scholarship and playing are of equal excellence, has produced another fine CD in his explorations of Bach’s lesser known works. He produced a CD of the Clavier-Übung III on the Metzler organ in Trinity College, Cambridge which I reviewed for the EMR in June 2016, and enjoyed greatly.

This time it is the four Chorale Partitas, which he plays on a Bernard Aubertin house organ of 2015 in Fairwarp, East Sussex. There are photographs of Aubertin’s instrument, and the full specification and details of the registration for each of the 38 tracks of these four works.

It is a treat to have sensitive and intelligently registered performances of these works, which are probably among Bach’s earliest to survive. They are modelled on the style of Chorale Partitas popularised by Georg Böhm and Johann Pachelbel in the generation before Bach, and probably date from his time at Arnstadt (1703 -1707), or even possibly when he was at the Michaelisschule in Lüneburg from 1700 to 1703 where Böhm was organist at the Johanniskirche and taught the young Bach.

Farr’s sensitive registration and neat playing gives us a well-judged balance and tonal variety – I like for example his use of a 4’ flute for Partita VI of Christ, der du bist der helle Tag, followed by the full chorus on the Positif, with the 8’ Trompette on the Grand Orgue coupled to the Pedal for the final partita (tracks 16 & 17). Overall the registration gives us the benefit of a small-scale organ in a domestic acoustic so that we can hear the complex figuration combined with occasional flashes of a grander sound for the culminating partitas. The elegance of registration (with a soft reed (the Voix Humaine) in the LH) of Partita VI followed by the rhythmically complex Partita VII (my favourite of all) in O Gott, du frommer Gott is beautifully balanced.  This fine judgement is especially evident in the final Partitas with their complex part-writing at the end of Sei gegrüßet.

Both the choice of instrument and the playing are highly commendable, and the sense of relaxed control, where tempi and articulation match each other excellently, make this a splendid performance. The notes provided by David Lee and the details of the organ are excellent as well: Resonus produce finer liner notes than many of their glossier (and more expensive) rivals.

David Stancliffe