> Bach Life and Works Siepmann [SM]: Classical CD Reviews- Oct 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685 - 1750)

"Life and Works" - Narrated Biography with Extensive Musical Examples".
Written and Narrated by Jeremy Siepmann.
John Shrapnel as Johann Sebastian Bach.
Other Parts Read by Trevor Nichols, Ruth Sillers and David Timson.
Recordings taken from the NAXOS recorded catalogue.
Various Recording Venues across Europe.
Various Recording Dates.
The full spoken text is available at - www.naxos.com/lifeandworks/bach/spokentext
4 CDs with 116 page illustrated booklet.
CDs not available separately, see text.
Naxos Website - www.naxos.com
NAXOS - 8.558051-54 [4 Hours, 34 minutes, 45 seconds]


  AmazonUK   AmazonUS

When I received this 4 CD boxed set for review, I must admit that I was just a little bit apprehensive about listening to 4½ hours of excerpts from J. S. Bach`s massive musical output, particularly as I am quite familiar with many other recordings that I possess of these works. Just how wrong could I have been. What Naxos have done here is quite impressive, and at a budget price. Jeremy Siepmann takes us through the somewhat long and eventful life of possibly the most important composer in the History of Western Civilisation. He is of course Johann Sebastian Bach, born on March 21st 1685 in Eisenach, the youngest son of Johann Ambrosius Bach and his wife Maria Elisabetha. He was born into a Europe that was still recovering from the ravages of the Thirty Years War (1618-1648). He sired twenty children, (within three marriages) most of whom became influential composers in their own right. He died in 1750 as a direct result of an operation carried out by the English occultist John Taylor. At that time, Bach had been working on the engraving of his last masterpiece "The Art Of Fugue". He was 65 years of age. His body is buried in an unmarked grave in the Cemetery of the Johanniskirche at Leipzig. An unmarked grave … unbelievable.

The real bonus with this Naxos set is the 116 page book that accompanies this issue. What Naxos have done, is not to give us the normal CD booklet of 20 to 30 pages with a brief outline as to the content. With 116 pages Naxos give us a magnificent tome laid out in nine shortish chapters with the following titles:-

CD Track listings Page 4

Biographies Page 7

1 - Historical Background: The Eighteenth Century Page 10

2 - Bach in His Time Page 18

3 - The Major Works and their Significance in Bach`s Output Page 26

4 - A Graded Listening Plan Page 40

5 - Recommended Reading Page 49

6 - Personalities Page 52

7 - A Calendar of Bach`s Life Page 62

8 - Glossary Page 100

9 - Discography Page 110

(With the following) The spoken text can be found at:


What more can one say about this? The recordings are taken from the Naxos catalogue and are all of excellent quality. The performances are all very fine and come from the following Naxos CDs:-

8.553859 "The Great Organ Works" BWV 565, BWV 578, BWV 552, BWV 147, BWV 564, BWV 639,

BWV 582.

8.550651 Trio Sonatas Nos 1 -3 BWV 525 - 7

Prelude and Fugue BWV 543

8.554606 Harpsichord Concerti III BWV 1060 - 2, BWV 1065. (A. Vivaldi RV 580)

8.553796 - 97 The Well-Tempered Clavier - Book 1- 24 preludes and Fugues. (2 CDs)

8.554603 Violin Concertos BWV 1041 - 1043 and 1052

8.550194 Air on the G String BWV 1069 (+ Double Concerto and Violin Concertos)

8.554608 Brandenburg Concertos Nos 4 & 5

Concerto for two recorders and harpsichord BWV 1057

Concerto BWV 1044

8.550585-86 Mass in B Minor

8.550078 Goldberg Variations

8.553751 "Bist du bei mir" BWV 508 from Notenbuchlein fur Anna Magdalena Bach

8.550763 Cantata "Ich habe genug" BWV 82 (+Magnificat in D)

8.550642 Cantata "Ein feste Burg ist unser Cott", BWV 80

Cantata "Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben" BWV 147

8.550679 Inventions and Sinfonias (Complete)

Fragments from Notenbuchlein fur Anna Magdalena Bach

8.550066 "J. S. Bach Keyboard Favorites"

8.550692 Capriccio sopra la lontananza del suo fratello dillettissimo BWV 992 (+ Partitas Nos 1 and 2)

8.553823 Motets "Jesu, meine Freude", "Komm, Jesu, komm", "Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied",

"Furchte dich nicht", "Der Geist hilft unsrer Schwachheit auf Lobet den Herrn, alle Heiden"

8. 550664-65 St John Passion

8.554607 Brandenburg Concertos Nos 1 - 3 and 6

8.554609 Overtures (Suites) Nos 1 - 4

8.550184 Organ Favorites - Pastorale BWV 590,

Preludes and Fugues BWV 532, 548 and 552,

Toccata and Fugue in D Minor BWV 565

8.554605 Harpsichord Concertos BWV 1054, 1058, 1063 and 1064

8.550641 Cantata "Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht" (Coffee Cantata) BWV 211

Cantata "Mer hahn en neue Oberkeet" (Peasant Cantata) BWV 212

8.550704 Die Kunst der Fuge (Contrapunctus XIII, XVII - XIX)

Partita BWV 768

Passacaglia BWV 582

8.553286 Musikalisches Opfer BWV 1079


A formidable list of some of the most important compositions ever conceived, and all by the same composer. You see, what Naxos have done (unlike all the other record companies) is to supply the newcomer to J.S. Bach with a comprehensive source for further research and listening pleasure. I wholeheartedly applaud Naxos for their care and attention to detail, and in their treating the purchaser of this extensive set as an intelligent person, who, unlike the purchasers of those Godawful "Essential/Etc." releases, intends to find out more about the composer, their works, family lives and what events were happening around them and the world at that time.

I have deliberately avoided going into detail about the individual recorded excerpts, as there are over sixty of them, and there is only so much space in this Universe. But I can most assuredly and most highly recommend this set to everybody. When you consider that this 4 CD set is sold at budget price, and is so lavishly presented, you have to ask yourself: ‘Are they all completely mad at Naxos?’ This would be a bargain even at full price. ENJOY!

Scott Montague

See also review by Terry Barfoot


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