Fred Thomas Trio

Aisha Orazbayeva, Lucy Railton and I are a trio of friends who met at the Royal Academy of Music in London and who have now come together with the daunting but exhilarating task of interpreting the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. Although a rampant multi-instrumentalist with a weakness for the viola, Bach’s first instrument was nevertheless the organ and his deeply personal Chorale Preludes, relatively little known outside the organ world, are amongst his most astonishing and radical creations. These multi-layered pieces brim with complex religious rhetoric and characterisation; often within a single prelude three or four totally distinct musical characters play out their dramatic roles independently and at different speeds, coexisting in a labyrinth of simplicity (the chorale hymn itself) and complexity (its environment). One of the central themes of this recording is the way these characters interact, sometimes intertwining in a kind of blissful co-dependence, at other times stubbornly ignoring one another as they continue along their relentless trajectories, and occasionally even behaving as if, totally unaware of each others’ existence, they move in separate dimensions.

As well as our shared love of Bach, this is the rationale behind this ensemble: to illuminate and elucidate – through bold interpretation informed but not constrained by period performance practice – the nature of these musical personas in a new and personal way, a way that a single musician alone playing the organ inevitably can not.

This double album is our debut release. Contained herein are forty organ pieces that I have transcribed for piano, cello and violin, many of which derive from one of the bibles of organ music, Bach’s Orgelbüchlein. In the tradition of Webern and Kurtág (both of whom arranged Bach), many of the transcriptions deploy instrumental techniques that seek to clarify and separate the voices, in other words, to avoid sound blending: the homogeneity of the organ, particularly in its resonant church acoustic, is something we have, broadly speaking, strived to avoid.

Furthermore, there are a number of recording techniques that have contributed creatively to this album. Firstly, it was recorded using sixteen microphones, thus enabling each piece to inhabit its own singular sound world: by choosing to use specific microphones based on the character of each piece, often combining microphones placed both very close and very far from the sound source, the result is that each Chorale Prelude is sonically unique. For example, the listener may feel very close to one instrument and far from the rest, or may sense instruments shifting in and out of focus. (I would say that these things are most clearly appreciated by listening with headphones). This microphone-selection process therefore became a meaningful part of the interpretation of Bach’s music, ‘post-production’. Although processes of this kind are fundamental to cinematic filming technique (zoom, panning, cuts, fades) and an adventurous Glenn Gould pioneered simpler musical versions in the 1970s, they have remained very under-explored in the world of classical music recording, where the goal is often to try and reproduce or re-live the natural sound of a live concert. Although there is great pleasure to be had from this purist approach, it can be argued that a good pair of human ears will always hear deeper than any pair of microphones; to truly emulate the physical sensation of a live performance is extremely difficult, if not impossible. Rather, our approach has been to treat the recording technique as an independent and creative artform.

Borrowed from cinema and other styles of music recording, the methods described above attempt not only to draw attention to fascinating aspects of Bach’s Chorale Preludes that can otherwise remain obscure or hidden in a homogenous sound-mass, but also to trigger and maximise a sense of three-dimensional space. Performers and listeners are in a large church, but no-one is static. There is movement of all parties, sometimes within one piece: CD1 begins by stepping into the space and walking towards the piano….

Fred Thomas

 

Fred Thomas – piano, musical director

Aisha Orazbayeva – violin

Lucy Railton – cello

 

Recorded August 2012 in St. Paul’s Church, Huddersfield, courtesy of Pierre-Alexandre Tremblay and the University of Huddersfield

Engineered by Alex Bonney & Pierre-Alexandre Tremblay

Assistant engineer: Rob Sutherland

Piano Technician: Barry Haynes

Mixed by Alex Bonney and Fred Thomas

Produced by Fred Thomas

Transcriptions by Fred Thomas, published and available to buy from Edition Wilhelm Hansen or Music Sales

 

Track Titles

Wenn wir in höchsten Nöten sein – Partita BWV Ang. II 78, VI (a)

Ach bleib’ bei uns, Herr Jesu Christ, BWV 649

Gott, durch deine Güte, BWV 600

Durch Adams Fall ist ganz verderbt, BWV 637

Der Tag, der ist so freudenreich, BWV 605

Auf Meinen Lieben Gott, BWV 744: Alio modo

O Lamm Gottes, unschuldig, BWV 618

Pedal-Exercitium, BWV 598

Gelobet seist Du, Jesu Christ, BWV 723

Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ, BWV 639

Herzlich tut mich verlangen, BWV 727

Ach Herr, mich armen Sünder, BWV 742

Christe, du Lamm Gottes, BWV 619

Allein gott in der Höh sei Her, BWV 711

Meine Seele erhebet den Herren, BWV 648

Herr Christ, der einig Gottes Sohn, BWV Anh. 55

Liebster Jesu, wir sind hier, BWV 731

Wenn wir in höchsten Nöten sein – Partita BWV Ang. II 78, IV (a)

Wenn wir in höchsten Nöten sein – Partita BWV Ang. II 78, IV (b)

Wen nur den lieben Gott lässt walten, BWV 691

Komm, Gott, Schöpfer, heiliger Geist, BWV 667

O Gott, du Frommer Gott – Partite diverse sopra il Corale, BWV 767, VIII

Es spricht der Unweisen Mund wohl, BWV deest

Gelobet seist Du, Jesu Christ, BWV 604

Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland, BWV 599

Christum wir sollen loben schon, BWV 611

In dulci jubilo, BWV 608

Liebster Jesu, wir sind hier, BWV 633

Jesus Christus, unser Heiland, BWV 688

Das alte Jahr vergangen ist, BWV 614

Herr Christ, der ein’ge Gottes-Sohn, BWV 601

Puer natus in Bethlehem, BWV 603

Alle Menschen müssen sterben, BWV 643

Wenn wir in höchsten Nöten sein, BWV 641

Jesu, meine Freude, BWV 610

Wenn wir in höchsten Nöten sein – Partita BWV Ang. II 78, VI (b)

 

 

“A brilliant young trio. With extreme sensitivity to colour and nuance, Fred Thomas has made these organ preludes into tiny character pieces for chamber ensemble” – BBC Music Magazine

“Thomas’ treatment of the Baroque score was modern but respectful. The pieces were full of colour and creativity making full use of the dynamic combination of violin, cello and piano…great concept.” – Bachtrack

 

Shows

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Trio in St. Paul's, Huddersfield

Photo by Alex Bonney





Listening back to a take

Photo by Alex Bonney



Fred Thomas

Photo by Alex Bonney