Music Reviews

Review – Bachs Königin

JSB, the Almost Unbreakable Craftsman

There is no limit, so it seems, to what can be done with the musical language of one of the most compelling composers of humanity, Johann Sebastian Bach. No matter which instruments are used. Not even an accordion playing selected preludes and fugues from Das Wohltemperierte Klavier, or the Goldberg Variations in an arrangement for five saxophones and four double basses! These are, of course, extremes but demonstrate the almost endless possibilities for competent arrangers to build on the power of Bach’s creative mind.

The master himself, too, reworked much of his oeuvre into ‘new’ and for different (solo) instruments, and many composers after him, up to this very day, have drawn inspiration from his legacy for their own musical palette. 

That said, and however indestructible or unbreakable JSB’s musical language may be, not all that glitters is gold. It is not only the quality of arrangements that matters but also and foremost the quality of its interpreters that can turn glitter into gold. 

The Queens of all Instruments

It is argued that Bach’s best compositions are those written for the “Queen of all Instruments”, the organ. We may or may not agree, but the fact remains that the selection as presented here by Holland Baroque is by all means a feast for the ear, the brain, and the soul. Not least because all arrangements are ‘homemade’ by Judith & Tineke Steenbrink, playing the first violin and the organ respectively.

Sisters Judith (first violin) and Tineke (organ) Steenbrink. Photo: Wouter Jansen

Their notion of each musician’s possibilities is a clear advantage for achieving a first-rate execution of personalized musical adaptation of the original. In other words: For Bach the organ may have been the Königin for his most inventive output, for us, the audience, the sisters Steenbrink are by all means the Queens of all instruments. 

An example: Bach’s Trio Sonatas were composed as study material for his pupils to learn how to handle three inputs independently, but the beauty is such that they continue to appeal to all of us, and the first item on the menu, Sonata No. 5 in C-major, BWV 529, is the one I have always liked best. The ingenious way Steenbrink & Steenbrink have constructed the three parts in an orchestral framework, especially the pedal part (contrabass), is amazing, creating a fundament that lifts their endeavour above that of any other arrangement of this Sonata I know of.

With an Eye for Detail and Musicality

As I said before, even if the arrangements are of a high caliber, the musicians are responsible for the end result. And although impressed by each individual player’s quality, it was the combined ‘joy’ emanating from this group that made my day. And what’s more, they haven’t given in to modern fashion to speed up as much as possible, turning each Allegro into Presto (and sometimes even Prestissimo!). This is good old traditional Bach with an eye for detail and musicality. 

Holland Baroque clearly exhibiting the ‘joy’ Adrian speaks of

With Carl Schuurbiers producing & editing and Jean-Marie Geijsen (Polyhymnia International B.V.) engineering, the sound must be good. And it was. I listened in pleasingly warm surround (5-channel DSD 128). 

I have several Holland Baroque releases in my library, and I like them all (and you may be tempted to check them out), but this one, despite being modestly advertised as ‘Bach’s Organ Works for Orchestra’, gives us what could easily have been labeled a newly discovered set of ‘Orchestral Arrangements of Organ Works’ by …. JSB.

Yes, it is that good.

Blangy-le-Château, Normandy, France.

Copyright © 2023 Adrian Quanjer and

Written by

Adrian Quanjer

Adrian Quanjer is a site reviewer at HRAudio, with many years of experience in classical music. He writes from his country retreat at Blangy-le-Château, France. As a regular concertgoer, he prefers listening to music in the highest possible resolution to recreate similar involvement at home. He is eager to share his thoughts with like-minded melomaniacs at NativeDSD.


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