Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Earthly and Divine (La Chair et l’esprit)
CD 1: Bowed Strings [73:01]
CD 2: Plucked Strings & Hammered Strings [67:31]
CD 3: From the Harpsichord to the Organ [64:12]
CD 4: Secular Music for Large Ensembles [79:47]
CD 5: Sacred Music [79:24]
CD 6: Open Bach [65:06]
Various artists, including: Gustav Leonhardt, Bruno Cocset, Dmitry Badiarov, Hélène Schmitt, Pablo Valetti, Céline Frisch, Lucille Boulanger, Arnaud de Pasquale, Pascal Monteilhet, Edin Karamazov, Yves Rechsteiner, Blandine Rannou, Elisabeth Joyé, Jocelyne Cuiller, Benjamin Alard, Bernard Foccroulle, Francis Jacob, Andrei Vieru, Raphaël Imbert, Koen Plaetinck, Raphaël Oleg, Jean-Marc Fabiano, Vincent Dubois, Salomé Haller, James Bowman, Damien Guillon, Gérard Lesne, Robin Blaze, Café Zimmermann, Pygmalion, Les Basses Réunies, Les Chantres du Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles, Akadêmia, La Chapelle Rhénane, Ricercar Consort, Quatuor Manfred.
Detailed track-list at end of review
ALPHA 889 [6 CDs: 439:00]
I’m all in favour of discs or sets that help people new to classical music discover great composers, especially Johann Sebastian Bach, whose varied works can only be presented in a large anthology. Alpha Records has done just that, putting together six discs of music from their collections - their own recordings, plus those of their partners, Fuga, Ramée, Ricercar and Zig-Zag Térritoires. The roster of artists - some of whom are listed above - is impressive, and the extent of these works vast. Yet do they really give a listener an idea of Bach’s music?
This is more than just a set of six CDs. It comes with a very attractive hardcover book - about 200 pages long, with many illustrations - in a box about the size of a season of TV series on DVD. The discs are separated by the type of music or instruments, yet these separations are not only arbitrary, but also imprecise. For example, the first disc, “Bowed Strings,” features some solo cello works, the Ciaccona for solo violin, but also sonatas for violin and harpsichord. The “Secular Music for Large Ensembles” is only secular in that it’s not sacred. In other words, none of the concertos this disc contains are especially “secular” in tone; the one cantata is indeed secular, though.
As with any sampler, there are good and bad points. First, many of the works are presented only partially. For example, the first disc starts off with two movements of the Suite no. 1 for solo cello, BWV 1007; only two movements. It’s followed by two movements from another cello suite played on violoncello da spala; then a full work, the Sonata in g minor, BWV 1029, then a single movement of a solo violin work. As the set goes on, this pattern continues: there are some full works, some excerpts. There’s no real attempt at making coherent programs on each disc, other than the grouping by type of instrument or whether the music is secular or sacred.
In addition, as these are all taken from different recordings, with different sound and even volume, the shift from one track to the next can be a bit jarring; I would have expected Alpha to have at least normalized the volume on each disc. Even more jarring can be the subtle differences in tuning from one work to the next.
Now, it’s not fair to be entirely negative. There are many excellent performances and recordings on this set, and the musicians and ensembles that record for Alpha and their partner labels are among the best out there. Notably present are harpsichord works by Blandine Rannou, and concertos by Café Zimmermann, whose recordings of Bach’s concertos may set a new benchmark for these works.
This is less a set for classical record collectors than for those new to classical music. As the music industry suffers, it can be useful to present attractive products that go beyond the music to attract buyers by offering something that makes a good gift. This set does just that. With an interesting book about Bach’s life and works, lushly illustrated, this is an excellent present for those friends who you would like to help discover Bach’s amazing range of music. It also serves as a fine sampler of the many recordings on these labels. Not all the performances or recordings are excellent, but many are.
I apologize for not listing all the works and performers in detail, but this would have taken a couple of hours of typing.
Kirk McElhearn
An attractive and interesting set for those unfamiliar with Bach’s works, and a fine sampler of music from a group of excellent record labels.

Track list
Note:- In general the works listed here are presented in excerpt form.
Entries in the list detail the individual discs from which the set was compiled

 CD 1
1: Alpha 029-6 - suites a violoncello solo senza basso - suite n°1 en sol majeur bwv 1007
2: Ram 1003 - cello suites, violoncello da spala - suite en sol majeur, bwv 1007
3: Alpha 139 - sonates bwv 1027-1029, chorals & trios - sonate en sol mineur, bwv 1029
4: Alpha 082 - sei solo a violino senza basso accompagnato - l - partita n°2 bwv 1004
5: Alpha 008 - pièces pour violon & basse continue - sonate pour violon et basse continue en mi mineur bwv 1023
6: Alpha 060 - sei suonate à cembalo certato è violino solo - sonate III en mi majeur bwv 1016
7: Alpha 161- sonata à cembalo è viola da gamba - sonate pour viole de gambe en ré majeur bwv 1028

CD 2
1: Zzt 020901 suites pour violoncelle bwv 1010 à bwv 1012 - suite no. 6 en ré majeur bwv 1012
2: Alpha 056 - britten - bach - sei solo a violino, partita n°2 bwv 1004
3: Alpha 027 - fantasia cromatica, sonates & transcriptions , clavecin à pédalier
4: Alpha 014 - variations goldberg - clavecin allemand
5: Zzt 2020401.2- suites pour clavessin - suite n°5 en sol majeur bwv 816
6: Zzt 030401-suites anglaises - suite n°3 en sol mineur, bwv808
7: Alpha 034-inventions & sinfonies-clavecin
8: Fuga 508 - O süsser clavichord-clavicorde
9: Alpha 157 - clavier übung l partita 2 in c-moll bwv 826

CD 3
1: Alpha 042-clavecin allemand
2: Alpha 180- clavier übung ll concerto nach italienischen gusto bwv 971
3: Alpha 149-die quellen des jungen bach - clavecin allemand
4: Ram 0903-toccaten - orgue
5: Ric 2898 toccaten & fantasien für orgel - konzert a-moll bwv593
6: Alpha 152 - sonate à 2 clav. & pedal. bwv 525-530 - sonata 3, ré mineur, bwv 527

CD 4
1: Alpha 013 - concerts avec plusieurs instruments - l - 5è concert brandebourgeois en ré majeur bwv 1050
2: Alpha 118 - weltiche kantaten bwv 30a & 207 anganahmes wiederau bwv 30a
3: Alpha 168 - concerts avec plusieurs instruments - V - concerto pour clavecin en fa mineur bwv1056
4: Alpha 137 - concerts avec plusieurs instruments - IV concerto pour flûte, violon, clavecin & cordes bwv 1044
5: Alpha 168 - concerts avec plusieurs instruments - V - ouverture n°3 en ré majeur bwv1068

CD 5
1: Alpha 130-missae breves bwv 234 & 235 - motet der gerechte kömmt um
2: Zzt 090102 – cantatas - kantate weinen, klagen, sorgen, zagen, bwv 12
3: Zzt 100301.2 - passio secundum johannem - la chapelle rhénane - parte prima bwv 245
4: Alpha 042 - partite opera - clavecin allemand
5: Alpha 170 - missae breves bwv 233 & 236 - en fa majeur bwv 233
6: Alpha 139 - sonates bwv 1027-1029, chorals & trios
7: Zzt - pièces pour orgue
8: Ric295 - aus der tiefe - bwv 131 

CD 6
1: Fug 581 notenbüchlein
2: Alpha 087- das wohltemperierte clavier - I, piano
3: Fug 061 - ein musikalisches offer "revisited" bwv 1079
4: Zzt 080101 - art de la fugue bwv 1080
5: Alpha 126 - entre parodies & transcriptions
6: Zzt 030601 - vagues à lames - partita n°2 bwv 1004