Memorably synthesized by Wendy Carlos (and memorably beloved by A Clockwork Orange’s Alex DeLarge), J.S. Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos epitomize the playful verve of so much Baroque music. The Concertos “display the lighter side of Bach’s imperishable genius,” writes NPR; “few musical works are as loved—and as often performed” as the six sprightly instrumental pieces. And of those six works, the fourth, Concerto in G major, is perhaps the most beloved, and most recognizable, of all. Thus it makes a fitting early entry in the expanding archive that is (or will be) All of Bach, a site intending to feature live performances of all 1080 of Johann Sebastian Bach’s works, performed by the Netherlands Bach Society. We’ve drawn your attention to the admirable effort before, and we happily do so again to celebrate their 150th offering, a performance of Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan (see a short, celebratory video announcement below).
The last time we checked in with All of Bach back in April, the site had uploaded only 53 performances. Since that time, they’ve added other popular favorites like The Well-Tempered Clavier (a “maelstrom in a minor key”—also beautifully adapted to the Moog by Wendy Carlos), and the glorious Magnificat, Bach’s first large choral work after his 1723 appointment in Leipzig (hear “Deposuit” below).
The Concerto in G major, which you can see and hear performed at the top of the post, shows us the composer “continually misleading us” as to “which instruments are the real soloists.” Two recorders initially take the lead, then a violin, then the recorders again until “they are soon trumped by the violin, which steals the show in a whirlwind of dizzying notes…. The roles are always ambiguous,” and our attention always riveted on the virtuoso interplay. “Bach deliberately obscures the usually clear contrast between soloists and ensemble,” All of Bach observes, and “his play on the characteristic elements of the concerto form draws to a close in a suitably subversive and boundary-blurring way.”
The site also features extras such as interviews with musicians. (See Harpsichordist Frederick Haas discuss The Well-Tempered Clavier here, or watch violinist Shunske Sato and recorder player Heiko ter Shegget talk about the Concerto in G major’s complexity here.) You’ll also find plenty of historical and musicological context for each piece. New performances are uploaded to the site every Friday. To keep up with All of Bach, follow them on Facebook or Twitter, or sign up for email updates on their site. Or just visit their web site.