on February 1, 2006
I have always liked the Musical Offering. That said, many people don't, finding it dry or "academic". If you fall into that category, this recording may change your mind. The playing is lively and most importantly, it focuses one's attention to the composition and interplay of the voices. I own four different versions of this work, and this recording is my favorite. Check it out!
on March 8, 2008
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 - 1750): Das musikalische Opfer [The Musical Offering] BWV 1079. Appendix: Flute Sonatas BWV 1031 und 1035. Performed by: Musica Antiqua Cologne [Reinhard Goebel, Hajo Bäss, violin; Charles Medlam, viola da gamba; Wilbert Hazelzet, transverse flute; Jaap ter Linden, violoncello; Henk Bouman, harpsichord], Ltg. Reinhard Goebel. Date of first publication: 1979 (BWV 1079), 1983 (BWV 1031/1035). Unfortunately, neither date nor place of recording are named. Digitally remastered und re-issued as DG Eloquence 469 039-2.
Reinhard Goebel's 1979 recording of Bach's "Musical Offering" is, in my opinion, a great testimony to the early art of this exceptional ensemble. I own two other "historically informed" recordings of this work, those by the Linde Consort (on EMI) and by the Canadian L'ensemble Arion (on Analekta), but although both of these are very good (especially that by Arion), the old Cologne recording still manages to excel them and ranks as something very special. Reinhard Goebel does not keep here to the commonly accepted order of the pieces as published by the Bach Society, but his choice seems well-founded (as Eloquence CDs have no booklet whatsoever, there is no reason given for it, but on listening I found that Goebel's way of putting the piece together "clicked" with me). The way of playing here is mostly quite energetic and always masterly and awakes this often rather difficult music to new life. Wilbert Hazelzet's flute-playing deserves special mention as a pleasure for ears and heart. Anyone who has doubts about the quality of this disc should listen in, if possible, to the second movement (the first "Allegro") of the Sonata sopr'il Soggetto Reale (track 13), which is really beautifully done. Of course, this is an analogue recording made in the 70's, so the sound may not seem as brilliant as on some of Goebel's later recordings, but I found myself glued to the loudspeakers anyway when the piece resounded (once again) from my CD player. This remark was perhaps necessary because the two flute sonatas which DG has included as a kind of appendix were digitally recorded and, in fact, really do make plain the progress made in recording technique with some brilliant, spacious sound. But above and beyond the merely technical aspects, these sonatas are further witnesses of the extraordinary musicality of Musica Antiqua Cologne in their early years. Despite the total lack of a booklet or notes, the CD is a bargain!
Unlike The Art of Fugue, Bach's great Musical Offering is not only of manageable dimensions (three quarters of an hour long) but is also designed as a single coherent composition that comes to a coherent conclusion with a grandiose finale. Simplifying its origins a little, Frederick the Great presented Bach with a theme of his own composition and bade him improvise a three-voice fugue on it. That was no problem but it seems that even Bach baulked at the Emperor's next command, to improvise in six voices. However it was probably not good politics to seem to snub Frederick the Great, so Bach's infinite musical talent came immediately to his rescue. In short order he turned out not only the six-part effort but also ten more canons, plus a four-movement trio sonata, all based on Frederick's theme, and had it engraved and bound handsomely for presentation to the monarch.
You would not expect the Musica Antiqua ensemble of Cologne to transgress in matters of authentic style. Six players take part, and the 3-part and 6-part ricercars (sc fugues) that start and finish the work are given as harpsichord solos. We know that Bach played the 3-parter himself, and the final 6-part summing-up of the whole work is written in open score, like The Art of Fugue to that extent and also like it in being within the capacity of a pair of hands. This does not commit interpreters to keyboard-solo renderings, and in abstract `absolute' music of this kind any suitable instrumentation will do unless the composer signifies definite wishes in that respect. However it is a perfectly reasonable way to go about these two numbers and also the 2-part canon #10. Instruments exist for music after all and not the other way about. As a mildly ironic touch if we are worried about theoretically perfect authenticity, it appears that Bach was invited to give his opening performance of the 3-part fugue not on a harpsichord but on the new-fangled pianoforte or whatever they called it at the time. Musica Antiqua do not go that far, but like other performances known to me they rightly use a transverse flute, on which Frederick was proficient, and not a recorder.
It seems that the engraver jumbled the sequence of the pieces to some extent, but so far as I know there is not much dispute these days regarding their proper order. The other performance that I own has the trio sonata and the `canonic fugue in the upper fifth' (in epidiapente) swapping places. If there is any issue that need bother us in this matter I don't know what it is and don't propose to investigate so long as I am given the entire score. The entire performance is my idea of beyond criticism, and the recording is a model of tact and clarity, from 1979. There is also a bonus, equally well presented by all concerned, of two duo sonatas, recorded this time in 1983 and I suppose you might say that the sound in these is a little brighter, in keeping with the lighter character of the music.
The DG Eloquence series does not do liner notes, but there is plenty of material available at the click of a mouse button or whatever one calls the equivalent of that on laptops. There also seems to be an abundance of performances, so perhaps I should mention the other account of The Musical Offering that I own (on vinyl), as it seems to have disappeared out of the catalogues altogether although highly praised when it appeared in 1977. It is from 10 members of the Yorkshire Sinfonia led by Manoug Parikian, whose name I seem to remember as leader of one of the top orchestras. The additional instruments are three strings and an oboe, and there are no harpsichord solos. The recording is again perfectly acceptable, and the performance, not a million miles different in style from Musica Antiqua's, is still valuable to the extent that it shines a slightly different light on this great work. It makes me think that just one performance of The Musical Offering is not enough in a serious collection. If you make the obvious reply to that, namely that just one performance is what I have been getting by with for decades, all I can say is better late than never. There are many more offerings available too.
on November 21, 2012
There are numerous versions of the Musikalisches Opfer BWV 1079, for solo harpsichord or piano, small ensemble, or small orchestra. Each version brings a different character of Bach's work. This version is for a small ensemble (6 musicians).
I find this to be an excellent presentation of this deeply contemplative, very late work of Bach's. They deliver a very thoughtful and intellectual performance.
This performance is more intimate than the orchestral version by the Stuttgarter Kammerorchester (q.v.).