The Berlin Philharmonic at the peak of their "Karajan sound" capabilities throw the full weight of their symphonic splendour at this Bach program.As for sound and video quality: all DVDs from this Karajan series are exceptionally good considering that the original material was recorded 20 some years ago. They leave nothing to be desired.
Karl Richter’s recordings of Bach’s orchestral and sacred music influenced an entire generation of musicians and listeners, presenting the conductor’s unique sound and style. When Richter recorded Bach’s works, he freed them from a ponderous tradition that had mired the music in romantic sounds and idiom. Richter lightened Bach’s music, and, with an orchestra of outstanding musicians, helped bring it toward the more modern interpretations that listeners have become familiar with today. This is still a bit far from the historically-informed performances that are pretty much the norm, but there is a unity and natural originality that comes through the music in these recordings.
The recipient of the 2012 City of Leipzig Bach Medal, Masaaki Suzuki has earned an enviable reputation as an interpreter of the music of J. S. Bach as a reviewer in Intl Record Guide has put it: 'With Suzuki you can hear Bach's heart beat'. To a wide audience he is known as the director of Bach Collegium Japan, and the moving force behind the ensemble's acclaimed recordings of Bach's complete sacred cantatas. Perhaps less well known is that he began his career at the age of 12! playing the organ at church services in Kobe, where he was born. Suzuki has remained true to the organ throughout his life, and for BIS he has previously recorded Bach's German Organ Mass, as well as programs of Buxtehude and Sweelinck. He here appears on a disc combining some of Bach's best-loved works for the instrument, including the D minor Toccata and Fugue, the Partitas on O Gott, du frommer Gott, BWV 767, the Canonic Variations, BWV769, and the celebrated Prelude and Fugue in E minor, BWV548.
When it came time for Johann Sebastian Bach to publish his Opus 1, what work do you think he picked? One of the sacred cantatas? One of the Brandenburg Concertos? One of the cello suites? No, none of the above. In 1726, Bach chose his B flat major Partita to start his publishing career – and once a year for the next five years, he published five more partitas, then collected them under the title Clavier-Übung in 1731. When it came time for Hungarian pianist András Schiff to make his major-label debut, what work do you think he picked? Yes, that's right. In 1985, Schiff released his recording of the complete partitas – and followed it with many more Bach recordings over the next few years until he'd released nearly the complete canonical works by 1996. And yes, Schiff's partitas are wonderful.
In light of the "chill-out" trend of the 1990s, major labels released many albums of slow, meditative pieces to appeal to listeners who wanted relaxing or reflective background music. Deutsche Grammophon's vaults are full of exceptional recordings of classical orchestral music, and the performances by Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic are prominent in the label's catalog. The slow selections on Karajan: Adagio are in most cases drawn from larger compositions, though these movements are frequently anthologized as if they were free-standing works. Indeed, many have come to think of the Adagietto from Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 5 as a separate piece in its own right, largely because of its evocative use in the film Death in Venice. Furthermore, the famous Canon by Johann Pachelbel is seldom played with its original companion piece, the Gigue in D major, let alone in its original version for three violins and continuo; it most often appears in an arrangement for strings.
The second concert was devoted to Bach's Brandemburg Concerto No. 1 and Shostakovich’s Tenth Symphony. The orchestra’s commitment was astonishing. Mariss Jansons would recall: “They played at two hundred percent capacity. It was unbelievable”. Shostakovich joined Karajan and the orchestra on stage afterwards, obviously moved by the performance and reception he received. For Karajan, it was possibly the proudest moment of his life… To conductor who would to have been Shostakovich, these things mattered.