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GRAMOPHONE (January / 2017)
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Reviewer: Lindsay Kemp

Recordings of the Musical Offering often make much of the order in which it is played. The authority of Bach’s own printed order is questionable, and he may well not have conceived the ‘work’ as something to be performed in its entirety anyway. Still, the habit of listening to a CD from beginning to end has not quite died out just yet, so it is worth noting that the Bach Collegium Japan make their own order by starting with the canons 1‑6, following that with the two ricercars separated by the ‘Canon perpetuus super Thema Regium’, the two ‘seek and you shall find’ canons, the trio sonata and finally the ‘Canon perpetuus’. Starting with canons and then holding some back for later certainly seems a good way of making them a central thread, but I’m not sure listeners would always want to hear the two ricercars so close together, especially when they are both played on the harpsichord. But then that’s what the ‘programme’ button is for, isn’t it?  

The instrumentarium here is basically that required for the trio sonata – flute, violin, cello and harpsichord – though with a viola or extra violin added in a couple of the canons. Masaaki Suzuki’s readings of the ricercars find a workable balance between forward momentum and textural lucidity, the trio sonata is tasteful if cool, and the canons are played with exemplary clarity (and I do rather like the way the Canon 5 ‘per tonos’ eases its way stealthily up through its modulations).  

This Offering clocks in at 53 minutes, leaving plenty of room for further contrapuntal cleverness in the 14 Goldberg Canons (the BCJ players a little more playful here), and a final helping of less compositionally intense Bach in the form of his galant-tinged Trio Sonata, BWV1038. BIS’s recorded acoustic is perhaps a little ‘big’ for such intimate music, though at no cost to transparency or attractiveness.

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