Bach: Toccata and Fugue (CD review)

Also, various other orchestral selections and transcriptions. Jonathan Carney, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Royal Philharmonic Masterworks RPM 28900.

German organist and composer Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) wrote music for practically every instrument, ensemble, and occasion of his day, with the preponderance of material for the organ, as one might imagine. The present album offers a sampling of his most-popular output, a few of the pieces adapted for modern orchestra. Although it makes one wish for longer or more-complete Bach material, one cannot deny the attraction of the works or their presentation.

Things start off with Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor for solo organ, only the disc never names the soloist. This seems a pity, he or she is so very good. The performance is at once vivid, lively, colorful, and exciting. Wonderfully recorded, it's a thrilling experience.

Next is the Cantata No. 51, "Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen." Here we get only the opening movement, with again exciting and engaging contributions from trumpet and soprano, the soloists again unnamed. Then, there's the Cantata No. 140, "Wachet auf," the most-familiar movement done up in an arrangement for modern ensemble. It's lovely, with Maestro Jonathan Carney letting it glide along like a dove on wing.

Carney's way with the Allegro from Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 is light, lilting, and completely charming; as is the "Air on the G String" from the Orchestral Suite No. 3. Like the other selections on the program, there is nothing old-fashioned about the interpretation, yet Carney takes his time and allows the music to unfold easily, without getting all crazy on us as some so-called "authentic" performances do.

The Allegro from the Keyboard Concerto No. 1 in D minor follows, where we find both Bach and Carney in a dramatic mode, with Carney making the most of the situation in a rousing rendition. In contrast, the Cantata No. 208, "Sheep may safely graze," is bucolic, pastoral, and perfectly delightful under Carney's deft, dexterous, graceful direction.

Continuing on, we get the last three movements of the Suite No. 2 in B minor for Flute, Strings and Continuo. It is chirpy, bouncy, and perhaps for Bach a little flamboyant; it is also quite infectious. Alas, the poor flutist goes unnamed.

We couldn't have a representative selection of Bach's music without the Cantata No. 147, "Jesu joy of man's desiring," no doubt one of the composer's most-familiar works. Carney gives it a romantic, close to sentimental treatment that is, nevertheless, considerably attractive.

The album ends with the Allegro assai from Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 2. It provides a properly chipper conclusion to the festivities. As I said earlier, all of this material makes one want to hear the conductor, orchestra, and soloists in longer, more-complete pieces by Bach. These highlights only serve to whet one's appetite.

The sound, produced in 2007 and released by Allegro Corporation in 2011 in the Royal Philharmonic Masterworks Audiophile Collection is big, sparkling, big, powerful, big, wide-ranging, big, dynamic, big, and did I mention big? Even played softly, the music gives one the feeling of a spacious orchestral presence or a huge, spacious organ or whatever. While the upper midrange is a tad forward and the upper bass a mite thick, the overall effect is smooth and realistic, especially with the inherent ambience of the acoustic providing so pleasant a bloom.


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa