J.S. Bach

Recommended (or not) Recordings

Musical Offering

Main Performer
or Conductor:
Monica Huggett
Accompaniment/Orchestra:Ensemble Sonnerie
Soloists:Monica Hugget, violin
Sarah Cunningham, viola da Gamba
Gary Cooper, harpsichord
Wilbert Hazelzet, flute
Paul Goodwin, oboe, obe d'amore, one da caccia
Pavlo Beznosiuk, violin, viola, tenor viola
Frances Eustace, bassoon
Individual Works:Musikalisches Opfer
Format:Compact Disc
Record Label:Virgin Classics Veritas
Catalog Number:45139
Year Released/Recorded:1996
Total Playing Time:71:41
For those who appreciate a creative approach to a great work, this CD offers the most enjoyable interpretation of this masterpiece I have ever heard. The wealth of instruments brought to this recording, all period instruments, help to give voice to the work's profound intricacy, an intricacy often difficult to discern when played on just one or two harpsichords. The Ricercar a 3, as per tridition, is played on the harpsichord. This is followed by a statement of the theme, given to Bach by King Frederic, on the oboe da caccia. With this single innovation, the playing of the principle them on the oboe, the recording begins to stand above all those that have come before. The Canon Perpetua that follows is repeated several times with different instrumental combinations. Their different timbres and registers display the versitility of Bach's counterpoint.

By far the most enjoyable innovation of this recording comes in the fourth track with the second canon. Bach instructs the players: "Seek and you shall find." Trio sonnerie does just this, and within the bounds of harmony Bach would have been familiar with, follows the canon where no other performance has ever gone. In the "Notes on this performance", Sarah Cunningham offers the following: "The Canonic language Bach used suggests various ways of manipulating the basic material, such as playing on music upside down and right side up simultaneously.... We have taken the liberty of applying these techniques to some of hte canons where no actually indicated by Bach... In general we have tried for a challenging but still listenable and enjoyable solution, within the limits of Bach's harmonic language..."
I cannot recommend this recording highly enough. It rediscovers Bach's imagination. I recommend it above and beyond any other recording. The musicianship is exquisite. The recording also provides two interpretations of the Ricercar a 6, traditionally played last. The first is an arrangement performed by the Ensemble and the second is in its traditional form for the harpsichord.

My only wish is that they had used a Silberman forte-piano for the opening Ricercar, the intrument, we have reason to believe, Bach intended the Musical Offering to be played upon. It was this instrument which King Frederic repeatedly asked Bach to play upon and when King Frederic gave Bach a choice of several of his instruments, it was several Silberman forte-pianos which Bach took home with him.

Andrew Koll said:

I would like to second those comments above from my colleague - I agree with him on every point, so I won't repeat them again, but I assure you he knows what he's talking about - he should write more reviews because his opinions are well informed, well considered and well constructed.

I am familiar with many, many recordings of hundreds of Bach's works - cantatas, passions, orchestral, solo, keyboard, organ and contrapuntal by the world's leading and most up to date Bach practitioners. For this recording of Bach's Musical Offering I reserve for it the highest accolade - an honour which I would give no other. It is the only recording I know that has successfully realised a conceptually very difficult work by combining the theoretical and practical dimensions together perfectly and delivering the results so exquisitely.

Apart from the sheer aesthetic beauty of the sound of the instruments - orchestrated so tastefully with restrained and informed creativity - the 'vision' of the Musical Offering and the musical mysteries it reveals has never been presented to us so simply and clearly, so completely and so well balanced. Bach himself would surely have thought that this performance by Ensemble Sonnerie encapsulates the intellectual spirit and ideals he was espousing through this work - Ensemble Sonnerie should be very proud of their work, because they have achieved something very special indeed. I would love to hear what they would do with other academic works like this, particularly the Art of Fugue. This group is special because it is so good at enlightening and informing us through their performance about the most profound works that Bach wrote - they present a doorway into which we can walk and achieve a well grounded understanding of one of the greatest minds the world has ever seen.

Acknowledgements:Thank you to the following for submitting this recording and for your comments:
  • Patrick Gillespie
  • Andrew Koll
Date First Submitted:11/04/1996