In January 2012, the nestor of early music in the Netherlands died: Gustav Leonhardt. Together with Harnoncourt he belonged to the pioneers of authentic performance practice. Leonhardt was a gentleman at the keyboard. His aristocratic mastery of the French harpsichordists alone, with all those complex decorations and declamations, was unrivaled. And yet he regarded Bach as the greatest composer ever. 'His music is incredibly versatile, interesting, intelligent. (…) What is the secret? If only we would know that! ', According to Gustav Leonhardt in an interview with the Reformatorisch Dagblad. This reissue, undoubtedly inspired by the publicity surrounding Leonhard's death, includes performances by Das Wohltemperierte Klavier, Die Kunst Der Fuge and the Goldberg Variationen. The settled execution of the Goldberg variations - in everything the opposite of Glenn Gould's electrifying approach - still sounds magical. Leonhardt's registration of Die Kunst Der Fuge had become the best ever, if he had taken the trouble to include the (unfinished) Fuga a 3 soggetti.
Much of Bach’s organ music was written during the earlier part of his career, culminating in the period he spent as court organist at Weimar. Among many well-known compositions we may single out the Dorian Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 538, the Toccata, Adagio and Fugue, BWV 564, Fantasia and Fugue in G minor, BWV 542, Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor, BWV 582, Prelude and Fugue “St Anne”, BWV 552 (in which the fugue theme resembles the well-known English hymn of that name), Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565, and the Toccata and Fugue in F, BWV 540. Chorale preludes are compositions for organ that consist of short variations on simple hymn tunes for all seasons of the church year. Better-known melodies used include the Christmas In dulci jubilo, BWV 608, Puer natus in Bethlehem, BWV 603, the Holy Week Christ lag in Todesbanden, BWV 625, and the Easter Christ ist erstanden, BWV 627, as well as the moving Durch Adam’s Fall ist ganz verderbt, BWV 637, and the familiar Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, BWV 645, and Nun danket alle Gott, BWV 657.
In his very favorable review of the Musical Offering, colleague Dan Davis noted how Savall's unique arrangement of the movements augments the performance's overall impact by forming a structurally sound symmetrical "arch" from beginning to end. Here Savall similarly rethinks the structural possibilities of the work, though his organizational choices function primarily as a means to enrich the impression of the fugues' varied sonorities and contrapuntal textures. Tempos also are generally very reserved, reminiscent of Davis' description of those in the Musical Offering as "startling in their slowness".
The Australian guitarist John Williams has long been universally recognized as a true master , to quote the Guardian. The centrepiece of Sony s new reissue of his Bach recordings is formed by the Suites for solo lute. Also contained on these 4 CDs are Williams s inspired transcriptions of the E major Violin Concerto (with the English Chamber Orchestra), preludes and fugues, chorales and movements from various suites. John Williams is a superb technician, wrote MusicWeb International, and justifiably deserves the accolades heaped on him during his long career. His rendition of these works is most authoritative and executed with admirable fluidity.
Boston Baroque and Martin Pearlman recorded a splendid set of the Brandenburg Concertos on period instruments in 1993 and 1994. Made entirely in the US, these snappy, crisply articulated, and fluent performances rely heavily on the talents of violinist Daniel Stepner (who doubles as one of the two solo violists in Concerto No. 6). Among the highlights are the joyous finale to Concerto No. 4 and the superb cembalo cadenza in No. 5, played by Pearlman. Along with outstanding sound, there's a winning sense of freshness and discovery in these performances.
The second section of the cantata is a long vocal section opening with four soloists (soprano, alto, tenor and bass) singing together. Many recordings of this cantata use a choir for this section, but recent recordings have featured a one-voice-per-part strategy here, as does this one. The texture of this is excellent, although the balance between the voices wavers a bit. The tenor, bass and soprano each have ariosos within this section. Tenor Knut Schock enters a bit heavily, but his voice is quite appropriate for the melancholy tone of his section. Bass Bas Ramselarr has a slightly dark, yet clear voice. His section features a delightful accompaniment by the two recorders - in an interesting counterpoint with such a deep voice - and, again, the balance is slightly off, his voice sometimes drowning out the recorders just a bit…
The B Minor Mass is a fine performance by The Sixteen and Harry Christophers, which is subtle and well-sung. The choir, which is fairly large at 26 singers (whereas some recordings in recent years have used much smaller groups) is nevertheless of a size that allows the individual voices to stand out in the choral melange. The instrumentalists also play in perfect balance with the choir - the obbligato instruments fit perfectly with the vocal texture, and the overall sound of the orchestra is excellent.
Here, again, Brilliant Classics has licensed recordings of the passions, masses and other works. The St. Matthew and St. John passions are good recordings by the Brandenburg Consort and the King's College Choir; I find these two passions to be a bit weak, and this is a shame.
Naturally, Brilliant Classics could not afford to get the best baroque performers - this is a super budget set - but one thing that the listener discovers in this set is that there are many fine, even excellent "second tier" performers of Bach's music. Many of the instrumental ensembles whose recordings are in this set are excellent. The Consort of London, for example, is a pleasant surprise. They perform the Brandenburg Concertos and the Orchestral Suites…