From the House of Master Böhm

Bertil van Boer
Fanfare (US)

The actual title of this disc is From the House of Master Böhm, and it comprises a set of secular keyboard works by Georg Böhm (1661-1733), who was organist in the city of Lüneburg. Johann Sebastian Bach was one of his disciples, though their exact relationship remains somewhat obscure, other than that the younger composer treasured and studied the elder’s works. Böhm, whose name is less known today, came from the same central German territory as the Bach family, being educated in Gotha and the University of Jena. By 1693 he had moved to Hamburg, where he apparently toiled in the city churches before winning the post of organist at Lüneburg in 1698.

Böhm is not exactly unknown to discography. Indeed, the works for keyboard have been recorded a number of times before, with two appearing already in 1993 by Gustav Leonhardt on Sony Classics and Dom André Laberge on REM. A couple of years ago Nicholas Good did the group on CDBY, and recently Brilliant Classics recorded all of the keyboard works for organ and harpsichord with Simone Stella. There is even a disc of his cantatas available on CPO. My guess is that this is a means of presenting Australian harpsichordist/organist John O’Donnell via the Melba Foundation.

One of the characteristics of these pieces is that one immediately sees the sometimes intricate writing that is more closely associated with Bach. Not surprisingly many of the original sources of these works come from transcriptions made by the Bach family, so the notion that these were treasured as compositions from a beloved mentor is probably accurate. There are some interesting moments in the disc, including a rather neat minuet in which each phrase ends in a unison, a sort of strange refrain. Each of the keyboard suites begins directly with an Allemande, which is often, like Bach, comprised of several voices that are spread throughout the keyboard registers. Of particular interest to me was the rather brief but poignant Ciaccona in the F-Minor Suite with its sighing motives above the ostinato bass. It contrasts with the elegant and formal Chaconne (in a very French style) of the Overture. The partitas on chorale tunes are quite effective sets of variations that unfold in grand waves, so much so that one hardly feels that they are based upon sacred music at all.

O’Donnell’s playing is extremely sensitive and facile. The harpsichord registrations do tend to be very much the same, but this music depends more on the adroit phrasing to come alive, which he is able to accomplish. He does know how to outline and bend the phrases, which makes this a fine disc. Although it does have competition out there, one would not go amiss by purchasing it.