From the House of Master Böhm

Andy Fawcett
Audiophilia (Canada)

Georg Böhm (1661-1733) belongs to that generation of German composers immediately preceding JS Bach, much of whose work is known to us only through manuscript copies taken and collected by the extended Bach family. Recent scholarship has granted Böhm a special degree of pre-eminence amongst them, though – as it now seems likely that the 15-year old Johann Sebastian was apprenticed to him, and lived in his house at Lüneburg. Bach enthusiasts will, then, be keen to look for signs of his teacher’s influence in these works...and they will certainly find them!

Böhm’s preserved output is not extensive; his organ works are the most recorded, while there are also some choral pieces and a number of suites for harpsichord, four of which feature on this generously-filled disc. Two of his chorale partitas also appear, a format pioneered by Böhm and comprising a number of variations on a chorale (hymn) theme, which was later enthusiastically taken up by Bach himself – these were probably intended for harpsichord, but are also playable on organ. Much of the harpsichord music of this era that’s familiar to modern listeners came from France, and there are occasional echoes of the French style, yet these works are distinctively different; more direct, less florid, already demonstrating the German obsession with fugue and also the gift of a ravishingly gorgeous melody.

John O’Donnell’s contribution to the Early Music movement, through his conducting, performing and academic research is truly extraordinary – including as it does the record of being the first person to perform JS Bach’s complete keyboard works. As his enlightening liner notes demonstrate, he brings to this music a high degree of insight and affection. Where much solo harpsichord music can easily become monotonous, O’Donnell imbues this material with unusual energy, variety, warmth and sonorous beauty. Also making a claim for star billing is the harpsichord itself, a modern reproduction of a Flemish instrument from the mid 1700s with an utterly gorgeous sound, captured with exceptional focus and a rare sense of physical presence in Melba’s typically superior recording. Also available as a download, including 24/96 hi-rez, this is a disc to appeal to more than just the harpsichord hardcore.