20 cd Brilliant Classics
About this release
This fascinating set provides a refreshing window onto a much studied, much idolised, and oft performed master of composition, allowing many of his familiar works to appear in a new light, recognisable and yet transformed. Bach’s music is often described as indestructible, in the sense that no matter how it is performed, or in whichever arrangement, its essential spirit survives. Many of the transcriptions included here represent the work of contemporary, world-class performers bringing Bach’s masterpieces into the repertoire of their own instruments or ensembles, thereby giving new timbres to the genius of Bach’s contrapuntal lines. The much loved Goldberg Variations, for example, are given not one, but two new arrangements, as the interwoven voices for keyboard are divided between the members of a string trio and a recorder quintet.
Others are scholarly reconstructions of concertos for what might well have been Bach’s originally intended instruments – versions that were subsequently lost to future generations. From 1729 Bach directed the Leipzig Collegium Musicum, an association consisting of students and musical citizens, and for his performances with them Bach needed to provide secular works. But his time was largely absorbed with writing sacred music for St Thomas’s Church in his role as
Kantor. So Bach devised harpsichord concertos by adapting concertos he had originally written for other instruments. Musicologists believe that the seven works known today as Bach’s concertos for solo harpsichord were initially composed as violin or oboe concertos.
A third category included here might be called Bach transcriptions by 20th-century “giants”. The great Dutch harpsichordist Gustav Leonhardt arranged for the harpsichord various major works by Bach – five from solo violin works, three from solo cello suites and two movements from a partita for solo flute and a suite for solo lute respectively. These are classics of the arranger’s art, refined and thoroughly idiomatic.
The composer, conductor, teacher and virtuoso Ferruccio Busoni, a complex visionary figure of German-Italian ancestry, made a succession of masterly and sensitive piano adaptations of Bach’s works. Unlike Liszt, Tausig and others, who sought to simply imitate the organ in pianistic terms, Busoni achieves a kind of alchemy – the specific sound of an organ in a resonant church – by means of selective doubling, registration (octave placement on the keyboard), pedal and distribution.
Eugen d’Albert was born in Scotland to an English mother and a German-born father of French/Italian descent. In the early 1880’s he settled in Germany, where he became one of Liszt’s greatest pupils. Acknowledged as one of the world’s outstanding virtuosi, he was also a prolific composer. His Bach arrangements are quite different from Busoni’s – more reticent, simpler, more economical and more closely aligned with those by Liszt.
The celebrated conductor Leopold Stokowski – who was an outstanding organist before he developed his conducting career – made rich, sometimes extravagant orchestral arrangements of many of his favourite Bach organ works, in order to introduce them to a different kind of audience. A grand, extrovert work such as the famous Toccata and Fugue in D minor might be judged the ideal music for Stokowski’s colourful treatment, while ‘Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland’ is most sensitively handled. Stokowski also arranged the so-called Air on the G string (from the Third Orchestral Suite), movements from cantatas, an aria from the St John Passion and a movement from the Harpsichord Concerto in D minor. His arrangements show deep understanding of the unlimited expressive power of the symphony orchestra.
Bach’s music is often described as indestructible, in the sense that no matter how it is performed or in whichever arrangement, its essential spirit survives. In the Baroque period the practice of arranging one’s own music or that of other composers was common place, and Bach himself was an indefatigable transcriber and arranger, using his own music to multiple purposes. Besides saving time and creative energy it gave the opportunity to other instrumentalists to play music of such high quality and universal value.
This set contains 20 CDs with arrangements and transcriptions of Bach’s works, for a wide variety of instruments or instrumental combinations: recorder quintet, guitar, string trio, saxophone and even a full symphony orchestra!
In whatever way we hear music of Bach, his genius and universal message of beauty, truth and humanity shines through!