J.S. BACH: Leipzig Chorales – Craig F. Humber, organ – MD&G Multichannel SACD (also 2+2+2) 906 1619-6 (2 Discs), 105:31 (Distr. by E1) ****:
Freiburg’s St. Petri church, home of a particularly colorful Silbermann organ (maybe even a “Bach” organ) is the setting for this surround sound collection of the so-called “Leipzig Chorales” of Bach. Actually they were probably begun as early as his Weimar years, and each exists in two versions—the early years and the revised edition from the last 10 years of his life. They are probably the highlight of Bach’s sacred output for organ, eighteen in number, and full of complexities of style that reach back a hundred years. The first 13 were definitely entered by Bach himself, and the last one, the “deathbed” chorale (supposedly dictated in his final days) exists partially in manuscript. Taken together they form a substantial and impressive body of work, the greatest of its type.
Hearing them all at once, as on this collection, can be another matter altogether. It’s like sitting in a Protestant church before the service starts and listening to the music played while people take their seats—only this time it is an hour and forty minutes of waiting! This is not to say that some won’t benefit from a full throttle hearing of the pieces, captured in wonderful surround sound in a dazzling array of colorful Baroque organ idiosyncracies—many might. But I found it tough sledding, as I knew I would, because the mood of these pieces really does not vary all that much and I think one disc at a time is probably enough unless you are looking for quality quiet background music. As a collection however, it is quite the feat, brilliantly laid down by a fine young Canadian artist who put a lot of thought into his registrations. As such, no complaints, and it belongs in any serious Bach collection.
— Steven Ritter