AUDIOPHILE (USA) January 2009
What this is, dear reader, is an orchestration of Bach’s probably pedagogical Orgelbuchlein, maybe designed to teach his sons how to play the pedal, and maybe not—we just aren’t sure. What we can be sure of is that any time one decides to transcribe an organ work one had better know what one is doing, or the results can be disastrous. In this case, the eight member of the Ensemble Mare Nostrum negotiate this music with such adeptness and absolute authority than I am tempted to say that they make it seem as if Bach himself had scored these 45+ chorales for this very instrumentation (tenor viol, portative organ, bass viol(s), boy and female soprano, archlute). The arrangements are all highly stylish and period-pointed, the playing remarkably fluid and concise, and believe it or not, not an ounce of boredom through the 70-odd minutes of this disc, even though we are only hearing chorales.
But what chorales! These beauties are all four-part contrapuntist-scored and constitute Bach not at his most teaching-oriented (of which he always was) but also at his most inspired. The music is simply beautiful (no doubt aided by the exceptional orchestration), and I just reveled in it with nary a thought about anything else for the entire hour. The skills with which the various colors and instrumental capabilities are combined startle the senses and make one wish to beg for more. Truly this is as delightful a baroque album as I have encountered all year, and I can’t recommend it highly enough!
MA recordings seems to be a wide ranging company that records all kinds of music, and Todd Garfinkle says this about the recordings on their website (ww.marecordings.com):
“Technically speaking, the recordings are produced with only two omni-directional microphones, the signals of which are "fed" through exotic audio cabling into handmade and customized recording equipment, designed specifically for M•A... In order to maintain the quality of sound, all M•A Recordings are produced in large, acoustically significant environments such as classical concert halls, churches and galleries. The importance of these environments cannot be overemphasized, as these spaces can only be considered as one of the co-creators of the recordings produced in them. The sounds created in a given space could simply not have been perceived anywhere else.”
I can certainly testify to the warm, vibrant sound of this recording, easily putting MA up there with the best hi-res-wise. Thank God for the smaller companies these days - the future of the recorded art for sure.
-- Steven Ritter