Steven Isserlis and Richard Egarr here assemble all the viola da gamba sonatas written by three composers born in the propitious year of 1685: one each by Handel and Domenico Scarlatti, and three by JS Bach. Isserlis plays them on the gamba’s modern cousin, the cello, and the microphone loves his playing, picking up all the nuances and scampering asides from his soft-spoken instrument which can sometimes get lost in big concert halls. Egarr on harpsichord matches Isserlis’s eloquence and rambunctious energy all the way. The dreamy, airy slow movement of Bach’s Sonata in G minor brings telling use of vibrato as Isserlis circles around Egarr, his playing at once idiomatic and soulful. An extra cellist reinforces the bass line in the Handel and Scarlatti, in which the composers give the harpsichordist only a framework; Egarr’s imaginative realisations ensure that even when Scarlatti is at his most repetitive, he is never dull.
Karl Richter’s recordings of Bach’s orchestral and sacred music influenced an entire generation of musicians and listeners, presenting the conductor’s unique sound and style. When Richter recorded Bach’s works, he freed them from a ponderous tradition that had mired the music in romantic sounds and idiom. Richter lightened Bach’s music, and, with an orchestra of outstanding musicians, helped bring it toward the more modern interpretations that listeners have become familiar with today. This is still a bit far from the historically-informed performances that are pretty much the norm, but there is a unity and natural originality that comes through the music in these recordings.
The recipient of the 2012 City of Leipzig Bach Medal, Masaaki Suzuki has earned an enviable reputation as an interpreter of the music of J. S. Bach as a reviewer in Intl Record Guide has put it: 'With Suzuki you can hear Bach's heart beat'. To a wide audience he is known as the director of Bach Collegium Japan, and the moving force behind the ensemble's acclaimed recordings of Bach's complete sacred cantatas. Perhaps less well known is that he began his career at the age of 12! playing the organ at church services in Kobe, where he was born. Suzuki has remained true to the organ throughout his life, and for BIS he has previously recorded Bach's German Organ Mass, as well as programs of Buxtehude and Sweelinck. He here appears on a disc combining some of Bach's best-loved works for the instrument, including the D minor Toccata and Fugue, the Partitas on O Gott, du frommer Gott, BWV 767, the Canonic Variations, BWV769, and the celebrated Prelude and Fugue in E minor, BWV548.
The arrangement of Bach's Goldberg Variations, BWV 988, for string trio by Russian violinist and composer Dmitry Sitkovetsky has taken on a life of its town, with multiple performances and even a sort of electronic remix by Karlheinz Essl. The appeal for string chamber groups longing to share in Bach's riches is obvious, and for audiences it appears to be another case of Bach's music standing up to whatever you do to it. Like most other annotators, Hyperion's Nigel Simeone tries to claim that the arrangement is on a par with the numerous transcriptions Bach made of his own works. It is no such thing; the string chamber texture by its nature adds expressive devices that were not of Bach's world, and he would have found Sitkovetsky's version bizarre.
In a church in a quiet northern Italian town survives a hidden jewel: an organ dating from 1749 which is perfect for Bach’s music. In this recording, renowned Italian organist Luca Guglielmi presents a fine sequence of some of Bach’s finest keyboard works, played on the historic organ in the Chiesa di San Nicolao, Alice Castello. The programme is compiled from works by Bach collected by two eighteenth century scholars, Padre Martini and Friedrich Wilhelm Rust, which would surely have been performed in the famous Abbey of Montecassino, a magnet for musical travellers on ‘The Grand Tour’. Martini and Rust played a major role in the creation of the first collected edition of Bach’s works. Guglielmi’s neatly-structured programme includes the brilliant Fantasia Chromatica, the solemn Fuga sopra il Magnificat, the fine Fantasia pro Organo in C minor and the great Fantasia & Fuga pro Organo, as well as Preludes and Fantasias, Duetti from the Clavierübung and seven Chorales for the Catechism, all demonstrating the vivid colours of this remarkable instrument.
The Bach Reflections project was started 2012 by Gerard Kleijn and Dick de Graaf in order to search for another level in Bach's music by connecting it to the Jazz music of our time. In Ed Verhoeff, Paul Berner and Larissa Groeneveld they found like minded musicians, who were willing to investigate Bach's music and search for new ways of interpreting the message of Johan Sebastian Bach. The musicians of Bach Reflections rearranged compositions of Bach, or just took small elements of Bach's music and build new compositions or improvisations around them. The result is a very charming and musically satisfying rendition of what Bach could have sounded like had he been born in Kansas City in 1920 instead of Eisenach in 1685.