Musical Offering

The Bach Players
54:13
Hyphen Press Music HPM 011
BWV1057 + BuxWV257

This is a first-rate performance of a late and intriguing work that is under-performed. There is a CD by Ton Koopman from 2009 and a more recent one by Ricercar in 2015, but this version was prepared and scored by Silas Wollston, the group’s harpsichordist, whose excellent essay in the booklet Bach the orator  is a model for what research and performance practice can create, and I doubt if it could be bettered. He convincingly summarises Ursula Kirkendale’s thesis that the rhetorical basis for the order of the movements is to be found in Quintilian’s Institutio oratoria, and displays how this works in practice.

Everything is good, except possibly the choice of a Buxtehude trio sonata as a filler: there are a lot of underperformed J. S. Bach fragments among his more canonic writing, (BWV 1072-8), or his arrangement of Fasch’s trio for organ (BWV 585) which might play more interestingly alongside The Musical Offering  than BuxWV 257.

But this is really beside the point. The playing – apart from a slightly lumpy start to the Ricercar à3 – is neat, balanced and fluid. Each of the players in Nicolette Moonen’s group (flute, violin, gamba and harpsichord) is confident without being exhibitionistic and the clarity of the recording in a sufficiently yeilding acoustic is a tribute to the seasoned producer, Roy Mowatt, and the editor, Nick Parker. Silas Wollston plays a Clayson & Garrett copy of a Dulcken 1745 instrument.

David Stancliffe