Various Artists

Bach: The Essentials

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Harmonia Mundi's two-disc set called The Essential Bach does indeed provide a clear view of the essential Bach in a compact package even if it cannot hope to represent the fullness of the composer's output. Starting with a suitably sparkling performance of the opening movement of the Fifth Brandenburg Concerto by the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin is a good move, and following that with an appropriately gloomy performance of the closing movements of the St. Matthew Passion by the Choeur et Orchestre du Collegium Vocale Ghent is a brilliant countermove. From there on, things get a bit dodgy: a moody performance of the Prelude from the C minor Cello Suite by Jean-Guihen Queyas followed by a meditative performance of the first Prelude and Fugue from the First Book of the Well-Tempered Clavier by harpsichordist Richard Egarr, then followed by a wild and wooly performance of the Toccata and Fuge in D minor arranged for solo violin with daredevil aplomb by Andrew Manze. And that's only halfway through the first disc with many more delights and surprises to come.

Some may question a few of the choices. Why all of the Cantata Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen? Why just the sixteenth variation from the Goldberg Variations? Why, after all period instruments performances, close with the Pastorale in C minor played on a Steinway grand? These questions are unanswerable to the listener. But to the question "does this two-disc set provide a view of the essential Bach?" The answer is yes. The Bach who emerges here piece by piece and performance by performance is the essential Bach: a virtuoso, a man, a mystic, and a composer of profound greatness.

Track Listing - Disc 1

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 in D major, BWV 1050
1
9:26
St. Matthew Passion (Matthäuspassion), for soloists, double chorus & double orchestra, BWV 244 (BC D3b)
2
4:29
3
5:21
Suite for solo cello No. 5 in C minor, BWV 1011
4
6:05
Prelude and Fugue, for keyboard No. 1 in C major (WTC I/1), BWV 846 (BC L80)
5
2:32
6
2:23
7
7:37
Cantata No. 170, "Vergnügte Ruh, beliebte Seelenlust," BWV 170 (BC A106)
8
7:00
Easter Oratorio (Oster-Oratorium: "Kommt, eilet und laufet"), BWV 249 (BC D8)
9
2:33
O Gott, du frommer Gott, chorale partita for organ, BWV 767 (BC K95)
10
1:15
11
2:39
12
1:11
13
0:42
14
1:36
15
0:54
16
1:02
17
1:57
18
2:46
Die Kunst der Fuge (The Art of the Fugue), for keyboard (or other instruments), BWV 1080
19
3:11
Cantata No. 122, "Das neugeborne Kindelein," BWV 122 (BC A19)
20
2:21
Cantata No. 21, "Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis," BWV 21 (BC A99)
21
4:06
Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D major, BWV 1068
22
Air
4:27
Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B minor, BWV 1067
23
1:34

Track Listing - Disc 2

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
Cantata No. 12 "Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen", BWV 12 (BC A68)
1
2:39
2
5:59
3
0:43
4
5:21
5
2:08
6
4:07
7
1:02
Sonata for viola da gamba & keyboard No. 3 in G minor, BWV 1029
8
5:24
Goldberg Variations, for keyboard (Clavier-Übung IV), BWV 988 (BC L9)
9
2:18
10
2:53
Cantata No. 158, "Der Friede sei mit dir," BWV 158 (BC A61)
11
7:02
Magnificat, for 5 voices, 5-part chorus, orchestra & continuo in D major, BWV 243 (BC E14)
12
3:03
13
4:11
The Musical Offering (Musikalisches Opfer), for keyboard and chamber instruments, BWV 1079
14
5:10
Weihnachtsoratorium (Christmas Oratorio), in six parts, BWV 248 (BC D7)
15
7:39
Komm, Jesu, komm, motet for chorus & continuo, BWV 229 (BC C3)
16
6:57
17
3:29
Mass in B minor, for soloists, chorus & orchestra, BWV 232 (BC E1)
18
5:19
Pastorale for organ in F major, BWV 590 (BC J81)
19
2:36
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