Lambarena - Bach to Africa

Various Artists

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Lambarena - Bach to Africa Review

by Stephen Eddins

The impetus behind this album, developed by Mariella Berthéas, was to create a tribute to Albert Schweitzer by bringing together the two musical traditions that were central to his life: the works of J.S. Bach and the musics of Gabon, where he dedicated his life to service as a medical missionary in the city of Lambaréné. To call this a crossover album, though, would be to misrepresent it; this is no clever synthesis of two disparate traditions. It's difficult to characterize the relationship between the two musical cultures. To say that the musics are "coordinated" misses the surprising spontaneity of the juxtapositions, but to say that they are "thrown together" suggests a randomness that underestimates the skill and art of the arrangers, Hughes de Courson and Pierre Akendengué. The music of Bach and the musical traditions of Gabon coexist without giving up their own integrity, and interact with varying degrees of obvious connection. The CD features classically trained European musicians, 10 ensembles from Gabon, and several Argentinean musicians, who worked together in the studio many months to create the album. The most successful tracks mysteriously capture the underlying musical impulse common to the two traditions, and the result opens up new meanings, and sounds natural and organic. For example, it's astonishing, on track 2, how beautifully a traditional song from Gabon dovetails and overlaps with "Lasset uns den nicht Zerteilen," from the St. John Passion, and how they complement each other in their exuberant affirmation of life. On track 6, the simultaneous performance of a ritual that includes a clapping pattern and hooting vocalizations and a chorus from the St. John Passion is breathtaking. Not all the efforts are equally successful; the chant at the end of the Agnus Dei from the B minor Mass simply sounds tacked on. But when the mix works, as it usually does, the effect is revelatory, transformative. The sound is intensely clean and beautifully differentiated, highlighting the wonderful strangeness of the mixing of traditions.

Track Listing

Title/Composer Performer Time Stream
Cantata No. 147, "Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben," BWV 147 (BC A174)
1 00:13 Amazon
2 05:07 Amazon
3 02:12 Amazon
St. John Passion (Johannespassion), BWV 245 (BC D2)
4 04:39 Amazon
5 03:38 Amazon
6 03:48 Amazon
7 04:23 Amazon
8 04:28 Amazon
Mass in B minor, for soloists, chorus & orchestra, BWV 232 (BC E1)
9 05:06 Amazon
10 02:11 Amazon
11 05:40 Amazon
12 01:54 Amazon
Cantata No. 208, "Was mir behagt," (Hunt Cantata), BWV 208 (BC G1, G3)
13 03:03 Amazon
Cantata No. 145, "Ich lebe, mein Herze, zu deinem Ergötzen," BWV 145 (BC A60)
14 02:14 Amazon
blue highlight denotes track pick