Since most of Johann Sebastian Bach's oratorios, cantatas, concertos, suites, and sonatas contain slow movements -- many of which have become favorite excerpts -- putting together a double album of them would seem quite easy; since Decca has an extensive catalog of Bach performances by such luminaries as Trevor Pinnock, Neville Marriner, Raymond Leppard, Arthur Grumiaux, Heinz Holliger, Alfred Brendel, and many others, assembling this collection would almost seem like child's play. All Bach's popular hits are included here, from the Air on the G string to the Prelude in C major from the Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 1, and the variety of solo performances and instrumental combinations keeps the music sounding fresh at virtually every track. Purists may lament that these are not uniformly authentic performances on period instruments, but there are certainly several examples of Baroque style here, though the majority of the selections tend toward modern practices. Because this collection is mostly directed to casual listeners, issues of historicity are perhaps secondary to the musicality of the performances, and most people will find the playing to be tasteful and the interpretations in the proper spirit. Decca's sound quality is quite smooth and well-balanced throughout, even though the session dates range from 1962 to 1998 and include ADD as well as DDD recordings; those who play this collection as background music will find it quite soothing and free of loud, disruptive passages. However, the choral tracks that close each disc -- Jesu, Priceless Treasure, and Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring -- are a little disconcerting, coming after so much instrumental music, and feel too religious for what otherwise seems intended as a secular album.
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