Fred Thomas Trio

Notes on the Recording

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. A rampant multi-instrumentalist with a weakness for the viola, Bach’s first instrument, his mother tongue, was nevertheless the organ. The deeply personal Chorale Preludes are amongst his most astonishing and radical creations: multi-layered pieces brimming with complex religious rhetoric and characterization. Often within a single Prelude, three or four distinct musical characters play out their dramatic roles independently and at different speeds. Typified by this coexistence of personas, Bach’s compositional wizardry produces an incomparable set of glittering miniatures. Packed within are labyrinthine puzzles, whose unlikely union of simplicity (the chorale hymn itself) and complexity (its environment) beguiles the ear with some of the most glorious ambiguities in all of music.

One of the central themes of this recording is the way these characters interact: often 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. The rationale behind this ensemble is to illuminate and elucidate – through bold interpretation informed but not constrained by period performance practice – the nature of these musical characters in a new and personal way, a way that a single musician alone playing the organ inevitably cannot.

Contained within our debut release is a set of organ pieces I have transcribed for piano, cello and violin (published by Edition Wilhelm Hansen), many of which derive from the bible 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 or, 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.

Recording techniques also contributed creatively to this album. Firstly, we recorded using sixteen microphones, thus enabling each piece to inhabit its own singular sound world. By basing my choice of specific microphones on the musical character inherent within each Chorale Prelude, often combining microphones placed both very close and very far from the sound source, the result is that each track is sonically unique. This aspect is best perceived by listening with headphones. 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. 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 musical versions in the 1970s, they remain 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 this purist approach can bring gorgeous results, our goal has instead been to treat the recording technique as an independent and creative art form.

Borrowed from cinema and other styles of music production, the methods described above attempt not only to draw attention to intriguing aspects of Bach’s Chorale Preludes that can otherwise remain obscure or hidden in a homogenous sound-mass, but also to trigger and maximize 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, starting with a slow walk towards the piano and ending with the reverse.

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



No shows booked at the moment.

Fred Thomas

Photo by Alex Bonney