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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)

Brandenburg Concerto No. 4, BWV1049 [15.13]
Consort of London/Robert Haydon Clark
Jesu meine Freude, from Cantata No. 147 [3.11]
Holland Boys’ Choir, Netherlands Bach Collegium/Pieter Jan Leusink
Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV656 [8.54]
Hans Fagius (organ)
Orchestral Suite No. 3, BWV 1068 [21.35]
Consort of London/Robert Haydon Clark
Motet: Lobet den Herrn, BWV230 [6.13]
Ensemble Vocal de Lausanne/Michel Corboz
Italian Concerto: Allegro, BWV971 [4.08]
Pieter Jan Belder (harpsichord)
Schlummet Ein: bass aria from Cantata No. 82 [9.24]
Bas Ramselaar (bass), Netherlands Bach Collegium/Pieter Jan Leusink

Violin Concerto in E major, BWV1042 [17.19]
Emma Verhey (violin), Camerata Antonio Lucio
Siciliano, from Flute Sonata in E flat, BWV1032 [2.12]
Stephen Preston (flute), Trevor Pinnock (harpsichord)
St Matthew Passion: Opening Chorus [6.54]

Choir of King’s College, Cambridge, Brandenburg Consort/Stephen Cleobury
Concert for oboe d’amore in A major, BWV1055

Rob Visser, Amsterdam Bach Soloists
Eine Feste Burg: opening chorus from Cantata No. 80 [5.18]
Holland Boys’ Choir, Netherlands Bach Collegium/Pieter Jan Leusink
Preludio: Partita for solo violin in E major, BWV1006

Mark Lubotsky
Aus Liebe: soprano aria from St Matthew Passion [4.38]
Emma Kirkby, Brandenburg Consort, Stephen Cleobury
Badinerie: Orchestral Suite No. 2, BWV1067 [1.21]
Consort of London, Robert Haydon Clark
Bourrée: Lute Suite in E minor, BWV996 [1.26]
Bist du bei Mir, BWV508 [2.40]
Johannette Zomer (mezzo soprano), Pieter Jan Belder (harpsichord)
Prelude: English Suite in E minor, BWV810

Bob van Asperen (harpsichord)
Largo: Concerto in D minor for 2 violins, BWV1043

Darius Polack, Kamil Drzygula (violins), Lodz Chamber Orchestra, Zdislav Szostak
No recording information listed

The Great Composers: Johann Sebastian Bach

Directed by Kriss Russmann
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 92416 [2 CDs: 67.51 + 70.23; DVD: 58.00]

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Brilliant Classics have put together a winning formula here. A DVD documentary film about Bach’s life and music has been combined with two CDs which gather together a representative selection of his music.

To take the film first. Although there is no booklet to give accompanying details, the handsomely produced enclosing box tells us that ‘this documentary film on Bach takes a close look at his life, the places where he worked, his works and the techniques he used when composing, as well as at the political and cultural life during the composer’s time. Recorded at original places, such as Leipzig, Köthen, Arnstadt and Mühlhausen, this unique film will give a detailed account of the critical developments in Bach’s life as well as of his many compositions’. True enough, except that anyone who has seen the splendid film about Bach in the BBC’s Great Composers series will immediately be aware that this new entrant is not unique. Moreover both films use many of the same ideas and of course many of the same images and venues. In fact the links go further, since many of the same musicians, including for example Sir John Eliot Gardiner, feature strongly in both films.

That said, the BBC film is slightly to be preferred since it offers more insights into Bach’s composing methods. Nevertheless this ‘new’ film from Brilliant Classics is very well done. There is a good flow of narrative and the images from Bach’s life are clearly outlined and thoughtfully chosen. No-one buying this package is likely to be disappointed. Though anyone who already owns the BBC version will not find the newcomer offering new revelations.

The two accompanying discs contain a pretty sound selection for the purposes of capturing Bach’s musical achievement. The weakness lies in the field of organ music, presumably because the available catalogue did not offer so many choices. If that was not the reason then musical eyebrows need to be raised. As the sole representative of Bach’s organ music the famous Toccata and Fugue in D minor is not the best choice. A prelude and fugue and a chorale prelude would surely have been better.

The performances are reliable enough, with an interesting range of stylistic approaches, and all of them seeming to be recent enough to be aware of recent developments in our awareness of baroque performance priorities. Unfortunately there are no details of either the recording locations or dates.

The performances gather a mixture of complete works and extracts, the latter coming not only from extended major works such as the St Matthew Passion (two examples) but also from within solo and chamber pieces. Thus there are single movements from a flute sonata and a violin partita, as well as the final movement, the Badinerie, from the Second Orchestral Suite, in which the poor flautist does not receive a credit.

These discs will give pleasure and the sequence works satisfactorily enough. But then Bach is the most indestructible of composers.

Terry Barfoot

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