The Musical Offering is the name of a set of
pieces that Bach wrote for King Frederick II of Prussia. Bach's son,
Carl Phillip Emmanuel, was harpsichordist for the young king, who was
an avid music lover. He begged the younger Bach to have his father come
and play for him. One evening, Johann Sebastian showed up, and the King
immediately ushered him to a pianoforte, where he played a theme for
a fugue. "Old" Bach improvised a fugue to this theme, but was so impressed
by it that he wrote a much larger set of pieces around this theme, and
dedicated it to the King, hence, this Musical Offering.
Like Bach's Art of Fugue, this piece shows the
many possible ways that a single theme can be elaborated on to make
a large, varied work composed of fugues and canons. The two works do
indeed have many similarities. The themes are related, and the manner
of treating them is similar.
This DVD, recorded for the ‘Bach 24 Hours’ television
festival in 2000 (and shown live at the time), presents a fine group
of musicians, which has already recorded this work together (twice -
once in the same group, a second time with Gustav and Marie Leonhardt).
Needless to say, these musicians are very familiar with the music, and
play it with a great deal of experience behind them.
However, this is perhaps not the ideal type of work
for a DVD. There is little to see - though I guess there is more than
when watching a solo pianist. As Robert Kohnen plays the opening section
on harpsichord, we see the three other musicians sitting with their
heads down, as if waiting for a punishment. The Kuijkens are certainly
not the most impressive or even expressive musicians around. I have
seen both Sigiswald Kuijken and Wieland Kuijken perform solo recitals,
and neither of them show much emotion while playing.
Nevertheless, the music is admirably performed. These
are all top-rate musicians, and their performance shows this. Personally,
the only reason I see for purchasing this kind of work on DVD is for
the enhanced sound. This disc has sound in stereo, Dolby 5.0 and DTS
5.0. The disc also contains a short documentary - a mere ten minutes
- while leaving a great deal of room for more. In fact, at just 62 minutes,
this is one of the shortest classical music DVDs I have yet seen. This
is a shame, since there were many other interesting performances and
documentaries that were broadcast as part of the ‘Bach 24 Hours’ broadcasts.
TDK has released several DVDs so far from this sequence, and each time
has parsimoniously doled out the "extras".
A fine performance, though the DVD adds little to the
music. If all you want is a stereo recording of the work, the same musicians’
recording on Deutsche Harmonia Mundi is very similar. The lack of extras
on this DVD limits its interest, though people who want to own what
little Bach is available on DVD will probably be interested.