MusicWeb International One of the most grown-up review sites around 2023
Approaching 60,000 reviews
and more.. and still writing ...

Search MusicWeb Here Acte Prealable Polish CDs

Presto Music CD retailer
Founder: Len Mullenger                                    Editor in Chief:John Quinn             


Some items
to consider

new MWI
Current reviews

old MWI
pre-2023 reviews

paid for

Acte Prealable Polish recordings

Forgotten Recordings
Forgotten Recordings
All Forgotten Records Reviews

Troubadisc Weinberg- TROCD01450

All Troubadisc reviews

FOGHORN Classics

Brahms String Quartets

All Foghorn Reviews

All HDTT reviews

Songs to Harp from
the Old and New World

all Nimbus reviews

all tudor reviews

Follow us on Twitter

Editorial Board
MusicWeb International
Founding Editor
Rob Barnett
Editor in Chief
John Quinn
Contributing Editor
Ralph Moore
   David Barker
Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb Founder
   Len Mullenger

CD: AmazonUK AmazonUS
Download: Classicsonline


Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Musikalisches Opfer, BWV 1079 [57:03]
Members of the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra/Ton Koopman
rec. June 2008 Waalse Kerk Amsterdam, Holland DDD

Experience Classicsonline

The origins of Bach's Musical Offering are well known: only three years before his death, the composer visited Frederick II of Prussia in Potsdam, who asked him to improvise on a theme of his own on the clavier. Perhaps with a view to potential employment there, perhaps purely out of courtesy, Bach took the theme away and put his compositional money where his complimentary mouth had been by elaborating on the theme. He wrote an emphatically disparate collection of works based on Frederick's original… a three-part, and two six-part ricercar movements; a series of canons in two and four parts with fugue; a sonata in four movements.

Not, however, that a full, cyclic performance is undesirable or in some way inauthentic.  That's what we have here from Bach specialist Ton Koopman and his forces. It works splendidly, conveys you through the whole with great style and yet leaves just enough unsaid, musically un-belaboured, for you to want more and appreciate Bach's mystery.

Just as much to the point, when the copper-engraved finished work was presented to Frederick less than six months later, in September 1747, it seems likely that it was well-suited not only to the compositional prowess of the monarch, but also to the resident musicians at his disposal. These included Johann Graun, Johann Quantz and Bach's son, Carl Philipp Emanuel.

It's charitable to see Bach (senior) wishing to enhance Frederick's reputation (for whatever reason) by providing him with such a rich vein of musical imagination. It's realistic to recognise Bach's (perhaps inadvertent) attempt to demonstrate how much can be derived from how little. After all, one attribute of the ricercar fugues is their quality of seeking… seeking something more from a 'mere tune'.

However far you subscribe to Bach's fascination with number and letter theory, there can be little or no doubt that the acrostic in Latin which is formed by R.I.C.E.R.C.A.R. is to be understood as 'the melody which the king (Regis) gave - extended by the art of the canon'. Similarly, the augmentation canon, number 4, carries the allegorical weight of increased good fortunes for the king. While this need not affect the impact or quality of the music, it is useful in binding its context and background to what we hear - after over 250 years.

Ton Koopman's interpretation is as rounded and precise, as focused and comprehensive as we should expect from him. It is clearly informed by his awareness of this history. And enriched by an appreciation of how easy it was for Bach to live up to the occasion; although (at least on his own admission) he was essentially a humble Kapellmeister, however  renowned. Bach was also clearly able to judge and meet the likely demands on the first performers; and at the same time to produce something of such complex yet accessible beauty that it has a value to us listeners now.

Together with seven players of his Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra (flute, strings and harpsichord), Koopman has produced in this recording from 2008 in Amsterdam an interpretation that is thoughtful and contained in that it never tries to suggest qualities - of texture, timbre or structure, for instance - which it has not found from well within the music as first conceived. That's not to say that this is a lacklustre Musikalisches Opfer. But that it has as much quiet confidence and sensible reflection as it could have had (but doesn't) effects or fireworks.

Choice of instruments is always open with this work. Koopman has chosen wisely. The texture is a little on the mellow side - with a viola, violone and cello. This significantly adds to the profundity and gravitas of the work. And when Wilbert Hazelzet's flute appears - almost imperceptibly at first and ever softly thereafter - in the Fuga canonica in Epidiapente, it reminds us just what an expert at contrast and colour Bach was. And in the midst of such otherwise cerebral music.

One's impression after listening to this CD is of having been offered a highly refined choice of delicacies at a banquet specially prepared for one; and where the nutritional value of all the food is as high as are the varied flavours from foods carefully selected from parallel and cousin families.

Oddly enough, first class recordings of the Musical Offering are not so plentiful as the work's stature might suggest. The Kuijkens have at least two in the catalogue that can be recommended; and Ensemble Sonnerie on Virgin Classics Veritas (45139) should be considered. Still, with a clean, clear recording (and a useful introductory essay by Bach expert Christoph Wolff) this latest CD is more than welcome and can be listened to multiple times with each one revealing something new.

Mark Sealey


Advertising on

Donate and keep us afloat


New Releases

Naxos Classical
All Naxos reviews

Chandos recordings
All Chandos reviews

Hyperion recordings
All Hyperion reviews

Foghorn recordings
All Foghorn reviews

Troubadisc recordings
All Troubadisc reviews

all Bridge reviews

all cpo reviews

Divine Art recordings
Click to see New Releases
Get 10% off using code musicweb10
All Divine Art reviews

All Eloquence reviews

Lyrita recordings
All Lyrita Reviews


Wyastone New Releases
Obtain 10% discount

Subscribe to our free weekly review listing




Making a Donation to MusicWeb

Writing CD reviews for MWI

About MWI
Who we are, where we have come from and how we do it.

Site Map

How to find a review

How to find articles on MusicWeb
Listed in date order

Review Indexes
   By Label
      Select a label and all reviews are listed in Catalogue order
   By Masterwork
            Links from composer names (eg Sibelius) are to resource pages with links to the review indexes for the individual works as well as other resources.

Themed Review pages

Jazz reviews


      Composer surveys
      Unique to MusicWeb -
a comprehensive listing of all LP and CD recordings of given works
Prepared by Michael Herman

The Collector’s Guide to Gramophone Company Record Labels 1898 - 1925
Howard Friedman

Book Reviews

Complete Books
We have a number of out of print complete books on-line

With Composers, Conductors, Singers, Instumentalists and others
Includes those on the Seen and Heard site


Nostalgia CD reviews

Records Of The Year
Each reviewer is given the opportunity to select the best of the releases

Monthly Best Buys
Recordings of the Month and Bargains of the Month

Arthur Butterworth Writes

An occasional column

Phil Scowcroft's Garlands
British Light Music articles

Classical blogs
A listing of Classical Music Blogs external to MusicWeb International

Reviewers Logs
What they have been listening to for pleasure



Bulletin Board

Give your opinions or seek answers

Past and present

Helpers invited!

How Did I Miss That?

Currently suspended but there are a lot there with sound clips

Composer Resources

British Composers

British Light Music Composers

Other composers

Film Music (Archive)
Film Music on the Web (Closed in December 2006)

Programme Notes
For concert organizers

External sites
British Music Society
The BBC Proms
Orchestra Sites
Recording Companies & Retailers
Online Music
Agents & Marketing
Other links
Web News sites etc

A pot-pourri of articles

MW Listening Room
MW Office

Advice to Windows Vista users  
Site History  
What they say about us
What we say about us!
Where to get help on the Internet
CD orders By Special Request
Graphics archive
Currency Converter
Web Ring
Translation Service

Rules for potential reviewers :-)
Do Not Go Here!
April Fools

Return to Review Index

Untitled Document

Reviews from previous months
Join the mailing list and receive a hyperlinked weekly update on the discs reviewed. details
We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin Board
Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to which you refer.