J. S. Bach: Musicalisches Opfer

Bach Collegium Japan, Masaaki Suzuki
BWV1079 + Aria from BWV988, BWV1038, BWV1087

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]his Musical Offering  is intellectually as well as musically satisfying, with a liner note introducing the reader to the – by 1747 – old-fashioned idea that canons (ten of them, to reflect the Ten Commandments) were the bedrock of a musical style that sought to reflect the majesty and incomprehensible greatness of God, while ‘modern’ music in the galant style sought primarily to relax and entertain without troubling the intellect or the theologically inspired quest for meaning.

‘Old’ Bach’s visit to Frederick the Great, where his son Carl Philipp Emanuel was keyboard player in residence, was a widely reported affair. As we know, the ruler of Prussia gave Bach a ‘royal theme’ and was astonished at Bach’s immediate response, and the versatility of his inspirations. Bach promised to work at it, and send the Emperor his considered response, and Suzuki and his companions play the Canones Diversi, followed by the Ricercar à 3, the Canon Perpetuus and the Ricercar à 6 before the Canons à 2 and à 4, the Sonata and finally the Canon Perpetuus.
This tour de force, in a very satisfying form (pace Silas Wollston’s excellent note for Nicolette Moonen’s The Bach Players’ Musical Offering  which I reviewed last July), is completed on this CD by the ten Canons on the Goldberg Ground (BWV 1087) and the Sonata in G major (BWV 1038) for flute, violin and basso continuo.

The Goldberg canons are written over an eight-note soggetto  (or theme) used in the bass line of the Aria from BWV 988. These fourteen conclude with an astonishing four-fold proportion-canon, the A & Ω of all canons. Fourteen also, as Suzuki points out, spells B A C H in numerical code: 2+1+3+8.

BWV 1038 has an almost identical bass line to a slightly later (and much less ‘modern’) sonata for violin and continuo where the fugal imitations were pruned to suggestions, and a wholly different feel was given to the music. I’m only sorry this could not be included too.

As you would expect, the playing and recording are both of the high standard we have come to expect from Suzuki’s forces, and I wholeheartedly commend this extraordinary set of musical puzzles.

David Stancliffe

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