Originally released between 1975 to 1991 on the now-defunct Calliope label, Andre Isoir's recordings of the complete organ works of Bach have been unanimously acclaimed by both the press and the public. La Dolce Volta now offers these landmark recordings (unavailable since 2008), completely remastered, in a deluxe, specially priced boxed set. The set includes a 152 page, full color booklet rich with photos and information about the music and the recordings.
This 55-CD set chronicles the remarkable Archiv label, begun in 1947. Devoted mainly to early and Baroque music, the recordings presented here, in facsimiles of their original sleeves (a nice touch), cover the period from Gregorian chant to Beethoven’s Fifth and Sixth symphonies, played on period instruments. There are stops in between for a great deal of Bach, music of the Gothic era, the French Baroque (Mouret, Delalande, Rameau, etc), Gibbons, Handel (Alcina, La Resurrezione, Messiah, Italian cantatas), Telemann, Zelenka, Gabrieli, Desprez, Haydn, LeJeune, and plenty of the usual, as well as unusual, suspects. There’s also a final CD with selections of new releases (more Handel, Cavalli, Gesualdo, Vivaldi).
Much of Bach’s organ music was written during the earlier part of his career, culminating in the period he spent as court organist at Weimar. Among many well-known compositions we may single out the Dorian Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 538, the Toccata, Adagio and Fugue, BWV 564, Fantasia and Fugue in G minor, BWV 542, Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor, BWV 582, Prelude and Fugue “St Anne”, BWV 552 (in which the fugue theme resembles the well-known English hymn of that name), Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565, and the Toccata and Fugue in F, BWV 540. Chorale preludes are compositions for organ that consist of short variations on simple hymn tunes for all seasons of the church year. Better-known melodies used include the Christmas In dulci jubilo, BWV 608, Puer natus in Bethlehem, BWV 603, the Holy Week Christ lag in Todesbanden, BWV 625, and the Easter Christ ist erstanden, BWV 627, as well as the moving Durch Adam’s Fall ist ganz verderbt, BWV 637, and the familiar Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, BWV 645, and Nun danket alle Gott, BWV 657.
Two things distinguished Thomas Hengelbrock's 1996 recording of Bach's B minor Mass from the many other historically informed performances of the work released in the early digital era. Where many other conductors used small mixed choirs, Hengelbrock not only used the 26-voice Bathasar-Neumann-Chor, he drew his soloists from it. And where most other conductors tended exclusively toward quick tempos, Hengelbrock mixed things up, favoring fast tempos in joyful movements and slow tempos for painful movements.