Classical CD Reviews

J.S. BACH: “100 Years of Humanity: Albert Schweitzer in Lambarene 1913-2013” = Chorale Preludes and other Organ Pieces – Calmus Vocal Ensemble/ Ullrich Bohme, organ/ Albert Schweitzer, organ (1 sel.) – Rondeau Production

Celebrating the 100th anniversary of Nobel Laureate Albert Schweitzer's opening his hospital in Africa.

Published on August 20, 2013

J.S. BACH: “100 Years of Humanity: Albert Schweitzer in Lambarene 1913-2013” = Chorale Preludes and other Organ Pieces [TrackList follows] – Calmus Vocal Ensemble/ Ullrich Bohme, organ/ Albert Schweitzer, organ (1 sel.)  – Rondeau Production ROP 6073, 72:25 (4/30/13) [Distr. by Naxos] ****:

This album commemorates the 100th anniversary of the legendary Albert Schweitzer’s arrival in Lambaréné, Gabon, east equatorial Africa, to establish his hospital. Schweitzer (1875 – 1965) was a renowned Bach scholar and performer before he gave it all up to enter medical school and prepare himself for life as a medical missionary in Africa. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1952. This album celebrates “100 Years of Humanity”.

Albert Schweitzer was born in Kayserberg, Upper Alsace, and is therefore claimed by both France and Germany. His father, a Lutheran minister, began teaching him piano when Albert was five. Studies in music and theology followed at the universities in Strasbourg and Tubingen. In 1899, he met Widor in Paris and astounded him with insights into the “painter-like tonal and rhythmic imagery illustrating themes from the words of the hymns on which Bach’s Chorale Preludes were based”. Widor and others encouraged Schweitzer in the writing of the masterly work J. S. Bach: Le Musicien-Poéte which he completed in French in 1905. Instead of answering the demand for a German translation, he produced a completely new 2-volume biography, J.S. Bach, in German.

Schweitzer performed frequently in public, most often to raise money to support his missionary endeavours. As a result, he acquired a deep knowledge, and strong opinions, about organ construction. He found many of the new organs being built in Europe a century ago to sound “too harsh”.

The works on this album are among Schweitzer’s favorites by J. S. Bach (1685 – 1750).  They include four Chorale Preludes from Orgelbuchlein (“Little Organ Book”) – BWV 610, 615, 616, 617, as well as the familiar Toccata and Fugue (BWV 565), Prelude and Fugue (BWV 546) and the all compo(BWV 542).  The tribute concludes with two treats. First is an arrangement for five voices of Schweitzer’s favorite Choral Prelude (BWV 668) Vor deinen Throntret’ ich hiermit. Bach was working on it as he went blind just before he died. Of it, Schweitzer wrote “The suffering is surpassed; transcendental peace speaks from this music. Bach has stepped out of the earthly vale of sorrow and traverses towards God up on high”.

The final treat is an historic recording by Albert Schweitzer himself of the Adagio BWV 564 played on one of his favorite instruments, the sweet-sounding organ in the Church of Sainte-Aurélie in Strasbourg. It was on this instrument that all of the famous Columbia recordings were  made over a fortnight in 1936.  All the other organ playing on this album is by Ullrich Böhme. He is an illustrious performer who, in 1985 was appointed to the post of organist at St. Thomas in Leipzig, Bach’s own church. Since then, Böhme has initiated and overseen the rebuilding of the large Sauer organ there, and designed a new Bach organ, inaugurated in the Bach Year 2000.

Böhme chose to go back to an organ close to Schweizer’s home to record the selections on this album. The Silbermann Organ (built 1741, restored 1979, refurbished 2009) at St. Thomas Church, Strasbourg, is a magnificent instrument. The accompanying booklet features a full color picture on the back cover, as well as full specifications.

The Calmus Ensemble is the vocal group on this recording. Like the organist, and indeed the recording company, they are from Leipzig.  Calmus consists of five voices – soprano, countertenor, tenor, baritone and bass, and began in the tradition of the great German boys choirs. Since then they have embraced the renaissance, baroque and romantic repertoire, have toured worldwide, and become one of Germany’s finest vocal groups.

Rondeau Production is the recording label responsible for this testimonial to Schweitzer. They focus on two areas – Bach and choral music – but not exclusively. Their aim is to produce the highest in artistic and technical quality. They achieve that aim here. Wolf Kalipp engineered the restoration of the Schweitzer recording: Holger Seidler produced the rest. A small organization, ORGANpromotion.org,  helped promote the anniversary celebration with festivals and tours, and co-sponsored this recording.

This disc is a valuable introduction to a remarkable man, Albert Schweitzer, through the music he loved, the sacred organ works of J.S. Bach.

TrackList:

Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565 – Toccata
Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565 – Fugue
Das Orgelbuchlein, BWV 599-644 – Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin, BWV 616
Das Orgelbuchlein, BWV 599-644 – In dir ist Freude, BWV 615
Das Orgelbuchlein, BWV 599-644 – Herr Gott, nun schleuss den Himmel auf, BWV 617
Prelude and Fugue in G major, BWV 541 – Prelude
Prelude and Fugue in G major, BWV 541 – Fugue
Das Orgelbuchlein, BWV 599-644 – Das Orgelbuchlein, BWV 599-644: Jesu, meine Freude, BWV 610
6 Schubler Chorales, BWV 645-650 – 6 Schubler Chorales, BWV 645-650: mWer nur den lieben Gott lasst walten, BWV 647
Herzlich tut mich verlangen, BWV 727 – Herzlich tut mich verlangen, BWV 727
Prelude and Fugue in C minor, BWV 546 – Prelude
Prelude and Fugue in C minor, BWV 546 – Fugue
18 Chorales, BWV 651-668, “Leipziger Chorale” – 18 Chorales, BWV 651-668, “Leipziger Chorale”: Wenn wir in hochsten Noten sein, BWV 668a
Fantasia and Fugue in G minor, BWV 542 – Fantasia
Fantasia and Fugue in G minor, BWV 542 – Fugue
18 Chorales, BWV 651-668, “Leipziger Chorale” (arr. S. Krause) – 18 Chorales, BWV 651-668, “Leipziger Chorale”: Vor deinen Thron, BWV 668 (arr. S. Krause)
Toccata, adagio and fugue in C major, BWV 564 – Toccata, adagio and fugue in C major, BWV 564: Adagio

—Paul Kennedy

 




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