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J.S. Bach: A Musical Offering, BWV 1079 – Harpsichord Concerto, BWV 1059 & Trio Sonata in D Minor, BWV 527

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Catalogue No: SOMMCD 077
Release Date: 02/01/2009
Number of Discs: 1
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Nicholas Jackson’s realisation of Bach’s Musical Offering makes this an interesting new release for the SOMM catalogue. It is coupled with his arrangement of the Trio Sonata in D minor BWV 527 and by the Harpsichord Concerto No. 8 in a reconstruction by Gustav Leonhardt.

Lisete da Silva –Baroque Flute/Recorder
Hannah McLaughlan –Baroque Oboe
Madeleine Easton – Baroque Violin
Marianna Szucs –Baroque Violin
Emma Alter – Baroque Viola
Nick Stringfellow – Baroque Cello
Kate Aldridge – Double Bass
Nicholas Jackson – Harpsichord/Director

Nicholas Jackson’s realisation of Bach’s Musical Offering makes this an interesting new release for the SOMM catalogue. Also of interest is how this astonishing work came into being. In brief, the work has its roots in a meeting between the composer and Frederick II in May of 1747. The King wanted to show Bach a novelty: the piano had been invented some years earlier, and he now owned several of the experimental instruments being developed by Silbermann. During his anticipated visit to Frederick’s palace in Potsdam, Bach received from the King a long and complex musical figure on which to improvise a three-voice fugue. Frederick, then, challenged Bach to make that into a six-voice fugue.  Two months after the meeting Bach published a set of pieces on this theme which we now know as The Musical Offering. Bach inscribed the piece Regis Iussu Cantio Et Reliqua Canonica Arte Resoluta, the first letters of which spell out the word Ricercar, an early name for the word Fugue.

Apart from the Trio Sonata which concludes the Offering which is written for flute, violin and basso continuo, the pieces have few indications of which instruments are meant to play them.

In this realisation the composer, harpsichordist and organist Sir Nicholas Jackson was motivated by the thought that the whole work might be effectively performed by just the four players involved in the Trio Sonata – undoubtedly the finest example of a Trio Sonata ever written. Hence the instrumental distribution for the 6-part Ricercar. In Bach’s Sonatas for Violin & Harpsichord as well as the ones for Viola da Gamba & Harpsichord, two of the contrapuntal lines are played on the harpsichord. For this arrangement the harpsichord plays 3 of the voices. Two of the canons are not playable on the flute but work well when played on the recorder – an instrument that all baroque flautists would have also played.

The Musical Offering might well have been called the ‘Art of Canon’ as in it Bach included ten canons, which were written as puzzles for which solutions have to be found. In five of these he used the royal theme as a ‘cantus firmus’ alongside canons. In the remaining five he made decorated versions of the theme and in some of these actually using versions of the theme itself as canons. In the 4th canon, for instance, although two instruments play the same music, one starts at the beginning while the other starts at the end and works backwards. But the astonishing technical feats demonstrated in these compositions are always subservient to an artistic result. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the sublime Canon in augmentation and contrary motion in which the violin imitates the cello at half speed and upside down, while – in this realisation – the recorder plays a decorated version of the royal theme. Above this canon Bach wrote ‘As the notes increase in value, so may the fortunes of the King.’ Above another canon that modulates up a tone each time he wrote ‘As the modulations rise, so may the glory of the King.’

The couplings on this disc are no less fascinating. Only the first nine bars (the opening tutti) exist of Bach’s Harpsichord Concerto No. 8. As these are identical with the opening of the first Sinfonia from Cantata No. 35 it has been possible for Gustav Leonhardt to reconstruct this concerto using the two instrumental Sinfonias for the outer movements, and writing a brilliant harpsichord part above Bach’s own orchestral parts.

This disc concludes with the Trio Sonata in D minor BWV 527, arranged by Nicholas Jackson. This is an arrangement of the 3rd of Bach’s six Trio Sonatas for organ. A version of the 2nd movement also appears as the middle movement of the Triple Concerto transposed up a 5th and with the addition of an additional pizzicato accompanying line for the violin, which is in turn accompanied by the flute playing staccato in the repeated sections. This arrangement has been adapted here, putting it back into its original key and re-arranging Bach’s extra pizzicato/staccato accompanying line. In the outer movements the brilliance of the flute and violin parts makes the work resemble a Concerto for these two instruments.

“He plays with superb judgement, and seems to find his way to the core of the music every time.” – RECORDS AND RECORDINGS

“Nicholas Jackson’s whirlwind fingerwork” – THE TIMES

“The doubling of the task of conductor and soloist was strikingly successful” – THE TELEGRAPH

“He performs Scarlatti with splendid panache…his brilliant command of the instrument….a fine record” – GRAMOPHONE

“His strength as an interpreter lies in his warm response to modern romantic music, as is evidenced by his powerful and dramatic performance of Langlais’ Incantation pour un jour Saint.” – GRAMOPHONE

“Nicholas Jackson’s playing is impeccable” – HI FI NEWS

“The hero of the day is Nicholas Jackson who first performed his Four Images at Notre Dame where they must have sounded very splendid indeed.” –  GRAMOPHONE

“Jackson is a superb interpreter of his own music. His dazzling Variations on ‘Praise to the Lord, the Almighty’ constitute a marvellously inventive tour de force.” – MUSIC WEB  (NAXOS CD recorded at Chartres)

“It isn’t just the organ of Chartres Cathedral that sounds French. So does Jackson’s music which is warmly recommended to those happy in Messiaen and Duruflé territory. The composer-organist’s ear for poised other-worldly harmony and iridescent colour is beautifully evident …” – CLASSIC FM  (NAXOS)

“In the Organ Mass by Nicholas by Nicholas Jackson, delicate accompanying figures weave an atmospheric spell, and there is a glorious ending …” – RECORDS AND RECORDINGS (NAXOS)

“I can heartily recommend Nicholas Jackson’s Bach CD of ‘Christmas Organ Music’…excellent playing and good value.” – GRAMOPHONE (SOMM)

“Jackson’s fine and sensitive playing throughout” (CD of Spanish organ music) – CHOIR & ORGAN (PRIORY)

On This Recording

  1. Keyboard Concerto: I. Moderato
  2. Keyboard Concerto: II. Siciliano (arr. N. Jackson)
  3. Keyboard Concerto: III. Allegro
  4. Musical Offering: Ricercar a 3
  5. Musical Offering: Canon perpetuus
  6. Musical Offering: Canon a 2 per motum contrarium
  7. Musical Offering: Canon a 2
  8. Musical Offering: Canon a 2
  9. Musical Offering: Fuga canonica in Epidiapente
  10. Musical Offering: Ricercar a 6
  11. Musical Offering: Canon perpetuus
  12. Musical Offering: Canon a 2
  13. Musical Offering: Canon a 2
  14. Musical Offering: Canon a 4
  15. Musical Offering: Canon a 2 per Augmentationem
  16. Musical Offering: Canon a 2 – modulating
  17. Musical Offering: I. Largo
  18. Musical Offering: II. Allegro
  19. Musical Offering: III. Andante
  20. Musical Offering: IV. Allegro
  21. Trio Sonata No. 3: I. Andante
  22. Trio Sonata No. 3: II. Adagio, ma non tanto, e dolce
  23. Trio Sonata No. 3: III. Vivace