Bach to basics

One of the many downsides of our clickbait obsessed culture is the neglect of not very clickbait-able J S Bach. To compensate for that in a very small way this post highlights some old and new, straight and not so straight, recordings of Bach's music that have given me particular pleasure recently. 

For 38 years Valentin Erben was cellist of the Alban Berg Quartet. In 2020 at the age of 75 Valentin Erben recorded the Bach Cello Suites framed by nine organ chorales played by his son Sebastian Erben. The three CDs were recorded by the Paladino label in Marienkapelle & Bruckner-Orgel, Stiftskirche, St. Florian, Austria and were released last year.
Back in 1999 the German jazz pianist Thomas Gabriel recorded the CD Bach Jazz with his trio. There is certainly no shortage of jazz treatments of Bach with Jacques Loussier's as the gold standard. But the Thomas Gabriel Trio's interpretation stands out due to its innovative but sensitive use of improvisation.
There is no improvisation but lots of pace in Brilliant Classic's recording SJ S Bach: Sinfonias from the Cantatas. It may not be jazz, but early music band Ensemble Cordia directed by cellist Stefano Veggetti romp through the Sinfonias in delightful but musically correct style.
Bach Cello Suites with added tabla and continuo organ may sound like a step too far, but for me it is not. Cellist Charles Curtis recorded the First, Third, and Fourth Cello Suites in 2012 for the album Bach: An Imaginary Dance. The accompaniment by tabla, and by organ playing the role of a tanpura drone is very nuanced. For me these additions do not sound wrong. They are just another of the infinitely possible takes on Bach's genius.
Founded in 2006 Holland Baroque is an original and innovative baroque orchestra. The musicians explore outreach by using their instruments to sing, dance, cry, and laugh through tradition, innovation, surprise, and a dash of entertainment. Their newly released Pentatone SACD/CD album Bachs Königin is a beautifully played and recorded 'straight' take on new organ transcriptions by the Ensemble's co-founders sisters Judith and Tineke Steenbrink.
Jazz pianist Enrico Pieranunzi's album Blues & Bach is a tribute to the legendary Bach jazz pianist John Lewis. A jazz trio backed by chamber orchestra with generous string arrangements mean this album sometimes veers towards Bach Bacharach, particularly on the first track. But staying with it reveals yet another valid but different approach to Bach's genius.
Back to basic Bach with another framing album. This time on a Stradivarius release Bach's chorale preludes for organ are prefaced with the composer's choral harmonization of the tune on which the prelude is based. Concentus Vocalis conducted by P. Urban Stillhardt frame the chorales played by Claudio Astronio. Framing, improvising, jazzing - whichever way you look at it Bach's universality is unique. 
And just to remind us of that uniqueness a heads up for the Swingle Singers 1963 Bach's Greatest Hits album which brought Bach to a huge new audience .
Several posts here have shared my enthusiasm for the late lamented harpsichordist Scott Ross. We are fortunate to have several new champions of the harpsichord, one of which is the American harpsichordist Skip Sempé. He may not have the 'bad boy' image of Scott Ross, but working mainly in Europe Skip Sempé has challenged dated early conventions and opened the genre to a wider audience. His album Bach: Tradition & Transcriptions, which combines transcriptions by his teacher Gustav Leonhardt of the music of Bach and other Baroque composers is, like the other albums featured here, an absolute delight.


Unknown said…
This is a great post. Lots of fresh music to consider. Thanks.

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