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
|Original Recording Format|
5th Studio of The Russian Television and Radio, Moscow, Russia
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|Release Date||August 28, 2015|
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.
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 album is available at a reasonable price. It is an absolutely necessary purchase.
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 prize winner, 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 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).
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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