It's the most natural thing in the world to record Bach's works together with the Lutheran chorales or hymns on which they were based; to do so seems merely an extension of the structure and ethos of the composer's own works. This disc of Norwegian Påsketona (Easter hymns) seems at first glance to be a further extension of the idea: it pairs Norwegian folk hymns, sung by vocalist Sinikka Langeland, with related pieces from Bach's Orgelbüchlein, short but dizzyingly complex organ settings of Lutheran congregational music.
Related how, exactly? All of these pieces pertain to the Easter story of Christ's resurrection, and there are certainly more specific thematic links. Langeland's Norwegian hymns and Lutheran chorales draw on the same fund of medieval liturgical music, and there are a few pieces here that show musical similarities: the opening pairing of Christ lag in Todesbanden, BWV 625, with a hymn called Christ laae I Dødens Baande establishes a convincing continuity of mood. But the listener may come to feel that the whole project is a bit contrived. "How far is it from the raw edges of folk music to Bach's refined view of the mathematical laws of the universe?" ask the liner notes. As it turns out, the intent of the project is not to probe the musical continuities of Protestant experience. Rather, writes our annotator, "what these two types of music have in common is that they are both 'earthbound.' There are no bogus gestures here, no oscillations that have lost their sharp edges of truth, no ritualistic motions that thave lost their meaning, nor is there any of the piety that smothers love."
This is all very nice. If you are intriuged by the idea of hearing Norwegian folk hymns beautifully rendered by a solo voice, in alternation with Orgelbüchlein selections very well played by Kåre Nordstoga on a Norwegian cathedral organ, then by all means check this disc out. And if there were a Grammy for conceptual boldness, Påsketona would be in the running to win. On top of all this, churchgoers looking for an unusual Easter disc may well find that the album fills the bill. Once these arguments are made and done with, however, this disc doesn't really hang together.