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Review Choir and Organ

There are a few gems to be found in the organ duet repertoire, but not many, so anything which expands the available selection of first-rate music deserves keen interest. Sybolt de Jong's series of elegant arrangements of movements from Bach's cantatas (of which two volumes are sent for review) adapt a variety of original idioms and scorings to produce a fascinating collection of works. One or two of the movements (not least the excerpt from BWV 137, which became the Schübler chorale BWV 650) will be familiar, but all, it need hardly be said, are of sublime musical quality. A little discomfort, if required, would be a small price to pay for such glorious music, but these are versions carefully crafted for practical use: pedals are employed sparingly, and scorings are inventively conceived to maximise both contrapuntal clarity and physical ease (an observation borne out by the excerpt from BWV 111, which is displayed in both Bach's original scoring and De Jong's duet arrangement). Registrations are suggested, conceived very much in terms of the north German baroque instruments where the (very good) accompanying CDs were recorded; but most instruments capable of providing a solo colour or two, a balanced trio registration and a clear chorus will cope without difficulty — although it should be noted that a manual 16ft capable of supporting a complex contrapuntal texture is essential, as are three manuals for many of the transcriptions. Fast passagework will of course need a degree of technical command, and there are some gently acrobatic moments for the second player in arrangement of a movement from the Christmas Cantata BWV 57; but there are also some short and simple chorale harmonisations which are within the grasp of the most inexperienced player, and would offer a delightful introduction to duet playing for students. STEPHEN FARR