While Glenn Gould was a pianist who performed the works of many composers, his name is inextricably linked to that of Johann Sebastian Bach. More than any other composer, Bach was Gould's speciality. From his first recording of Bach's Goldberg Variations in 1955 to his final recording, again of the Goldberg Variations in 1981, Gould recorded nearly all of Bach's keyboard music.
One of the best ideas Handel and his colleagues ever had was to make an oratorio out of John Milton's verse–specifically, of Milton's "L'Allegro" and "Il Penseroso" ("The Happy Man" and "The Pensive Man"), with the libretto cutting back and forth between the two poems to make a sort of dialogue, and with an added conclusion titled "Il Moderato" ("The Moderate Man"). The resulting work has never been as famous as Messiah, but it has always been a special favorite of Handel lovers. The King's Consort made a fine recording of L'Allegro in 1999; the selling point of the present version (which appeared almost exactly one year later) is the cast of soloists, which includes soprano Lynne Dawson and countertenor David Daniels, both genuine Baroque superstars, and tenor Ian Bostridge, current king of the art song. All three are very good indeed (as is bass Alastair Miles), with Bostridge in particularly fine form. You wouldn't think anyone could outdo the King's Consort's extraordinary Paul Agnew, but Bostridge does: every vocal color is apt, every word is completely clear. Interestingly, the aria everyone looks forward to, "Sweet Bird," goes not to Dawson but to her younger colleague Christine Brandes. The coloratura holds no problems for Brandes, though she sounds as if she's having to work harder than does Lorna Anderson for the King's Consort (to say nothing of the divine Miss Emma).
Gustav Leonhardt began recording Bach's secular cantatas on Philips in 1990 after completing the sacred cantatas cycle with Harnoncourt. Those Philips discs were well received but are now hard to find, either on CD or as downloads, so I was thrilled to discover that Leonhardt, now 80, just recorded another pair of Bach's secular cantatas.
The Bach Mass in B minor, BWV 232, assembled from bits and pieces over some years, coheres in its final form in ways that perhaps only the composer understood. This recording by the Choir of Trinity College Cambridge and Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment under Stephen Layton has been road-tested in performances around Britain for several years, but it hasn't lost the enthusiasm of its youthful singers.
A good first introduction to the musical worlds of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach is the recently released 10-CD box "C.P.E. Bach Edition ", on which the German 'harmonia mundi' has compiled high-quality recordings from the past 50 years.
This well-known set of Suites is rarely gone about by most harpsichordists because of its distinctive virtuosity. Its popular title refers to only one manuscript – the one of Johann Christian Bach, who noted “fait pour les Anglois” on it. After all it’s maybe a homage or musical reply on the 1713 publication of François Couperin’s Premier Livre de Pièces de Clavecin.
The Goldberg Variations followed the three parts of Johann Sebastian Bachs Clavier-Übung. The title page presents the work as a Keyboard exercise consisting of an Aria with diverse variations for harpsichord with two manuals… Forkel, in his biography of the composer, relates that these variations were composed at the request of the Count von Keyserlingk so that his harpsichordist, Johann Gottlieb Goldberg, might play a few of them during the insomnias that often disturbed the Counts nights.