The French word ‘suite’ was quickly adopted throughout the European continent. The primary meaning (‘set, sequence’) has been preserved in widely diverse contexts – in ceremonial or court vocabulary (a group of attendants accompanying an important personage), and as an architectural term (an enfilade or series of rooms). But perhaps the word gained most currency in the world of music. As we know, the suite is a favoured cyclical form of baroque instrumental music, representing a series of dance-based pieces that are complementary in the type of movement and unified by a single key (and initially, by the common melodic source).
At the turn of the 18th century it was customary to publish collections made up of a ‘set number’ of pieces, such as 12 trio sonatas, 12 sonatas for violin and continuo, 12 concerti grossi by Arcangelo Corelli, two 6 piece collections Musicalische Ergötzung (1695) and Hexachordum Apollinis (1699) by Johann Pachelbel. Continuing this tradition, Bach wrote 6 English suites and 6 French suites, 6 Partitas for Keyboard, 6 Suites for Cello, 6 Sonatas and Partitas for Violin, and 6 Brandenburg Concertos. A list of Bach collections shows that the principle of the suite – a single musical composition consisting of several separate pieces (from 4 to 7) grouped together – was used in various genres, both for solo instruments and ensembles. Hence the suite was applicable as festive Tafelmusik at court or as music played in a small hall or chamber, for recreation and entertainment, and also for instruction on how to play the keyboard.
Total time: 02:25:43
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5th Studio of The Russian Television and Radio, Moscow, Russia
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|Release Date||August 8, 2015|
Amazon.com: A feast for the ears (and the mind and the heart)
This recording has changed my mind about the harpsichord. I can’t say I’ve ever actually disliked the instrument, but I’ve rarely enjoyed the sound of the instrument. An exception is Trevor Pinnock’s wonderful recording of the Bach partitas. But in general the instrument doesn’t seem to record very well. But two minutes of this recording changed my mind. I’ve rarely heard such beautiful sounds coming from my speakers. Put on, say, the opening of the Fourth Suite and you’ll hear what I mean. This is not to slight Martynova’s performances (which are superb) in any way, just to indicate that the beauty of the sound is what initially drew me in. As to the English Suites themselves, they are just as wonderful as the partitas, if not as ambitious. Fortunately the discs are available from the marketplace (imported from Europe) at a reasonable price.
An absolutely necessary purchase.
“Fanfare” magazine, May/June 2009: Martynova: BACH English Suites
For many years prior to joining the staff of Fanfare , I was a loyal subscriber; I suspect the same holds true for most of my colleagues. For me, one of Fanfare ’s best features every year was the eagerly awaited Want List. It was a perfect way to catch up on outstanding releases that I might have otherwise missed. Yet the name was puzzling, even illogical: How could these be titles that were “wanted” by the reviewers? I mean, they already had them, right? How else would you be able to review said titles, let alone nominate them to the Want List, unless you actually possessed a copy? The implication, of course, is that these are titles for the reader’s Want List, but it seemed to me that a clarification was in order. Perhaps it’s the amateur lawyer in me, but I felt that publisher Joel Flegler was remiss for not spelling this out somewhere in fine print.
Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, I’m happy to report that there have been so many terrific releases in the past year that it’s necessary to group them in categories, something like the Academy Awards. (Who said the record industry was in a slump?) Like the motion-picture Oscars, the runners-up are often of equal or greater interest than the first-prizewinner, so I include a brief mention of the ones who got bumped from the top. The rules stipulate that you can only nominate five titles, but other Fanfare reviewers mention the also-rans and get away with it, so I feel fairly safe in this minor infraction.
Bach’s harpsichord music is a class all by itself, and this year’s outstanding release in that category (the envelope, please) comes from Caro Mitis, featuring the superlative playing of Olga Martynova on a rich-sounding Blanchet copy. It beats out releases from Christophe Rousset on Aparte (Bach fantasias) and Pascal Dubreuil on Ramee ( Clavier-Ubung 2).
French harpsichord music very nearly equals Bach in importance, and Rebecca Pechefsky’s recording (four CDs in all) of the complete music for harpsichord of Francois d’Agincourt should not be missed for the fine playing and excellent recorded sound. Runners-up are Christophe Rousset’s CD of Louis Couperin suites on Aparte, and Matthew Dirst’s recital of Francois and Armand-Louis Couperin on Centaur.
Baroque instrumental music is another important category, and there were several notable new recordings from which to choose. The winner by a slight margin is the phenomenal Accent CD of music from Johann Adam Reincken’s Hortus musicus (can’t wait for Volume 2). The award could have just as easily gone to the Ricercare disc titled Lustige Feld-Music with oboist Benoit Laurent, or the surprise Alba recording of Rameau’s Pieces de clavecin en concerts from a trio of unknown Finnish musicians (see elsewhere in this issue).
During the Baroque, vocal music dwarfed all other genres in scope and importance. I would be shirking my duty if I didn’t include a category devoted solely to the voice. For the sheer joy and exuberance of the performances, also for the novelty of the music, the winner is Jordi Savall’s latest exploration of Baroque-era music of the New World. Almost as deserving is the two-CD set on the Carus label of the sacred music of Johann Christian Bach.
Outstanding recordings on fortepiano have been appearing with increased frequency. Head and shoulders above the rest is Penny Crawford’s magnificent recording of the three last sonatas of Beethoven, played on one of the best-sounding original Graf fortepianos on CD. It edged out excellent recorded performances by Ronald Brautigam on BIS (Mozart concertos) and Luca Guglielmi on Accent (Platti sonatas).
Audiophile Audition Review: J.S. BACH: English Suites – Olga Martynova
The Polyhymnia recording team has achieved a rich and warm sonic for the instrument, in very natural surround.
Another of the many works created by Bach and other composers of the period in sets of six. Remembered for the oddness of the fact that the English Suites are really much more French – with only the closing Gigue of each Suite being of strictly English origin. And the fact that the French Suites are actually more Italian than French. The English title of the suites is thought to be connected to their having been composed for an English nobleman.
In the series of dance-movements (some of them dances that were no longer in vogue at the time) and style of ornamentation, the English Suites have much in common with the French Suites and the Six Partitas. The French lutenists’ dance-suite tradition is also a strong force here. This is seen particularly in the Prelude which opens each of the six Suites. The inclusion of the three-minute Gigue by Gaspard le Roux is provided for comparison with the Gigue in the same key of A Major which closes out Bach’s First Suite. The reason is that Bach created in his Suite an imaginative free variation on this specific Gigue by the French composer.
I was surprised I had no other harpsichord recordings of the English Suites in my collection to compare, and the versions on grand piano are a different thing entirely. However, this is the only SACD recording of the work, and Martynova turns in an exquisite performance with often rapid but not headlong tempi. Her musicianship is extremely high, and she plays on a recently-constructed French harpsichord. The Polyhymnia recording team has achieved a rich and warm sonic for the instrument, in very natural surround on this Russian label.
SA-CD.net reviews: Bach: English Suites – Olga Martynova
Take sublime music, have a profoundly musical performer record it, capture it in state-of-the art sound, and you have this new 2-disc set! I have several of her other SACDs, and this one certainly doesn’t disappoint. What a wonderful musician! She has tremendous technique but puts it to the service of the music rather than showing how fast she can play. I compared a few movements to Christopher Rousset’s RBCD on the Ambroisie label. He is frequently faster, but her slower tempos allow the *music* to come through more clearly. Her rhythmic energy gives plenty of forward motion. Also, his brittle and nasal audio doesn’t compare to Caro Mitis’ warm, full, and detailed sonics. Highly Recommended.
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