JS BACH Musical Offering
The Ricercar Consort’s recording activities in recent years have focused mainly on sacred music for voices and instruments, so it is nice to find them turning to the intimacy of the canonic compendium that is Bach’s Musical Offering (to which, of course, their name could hardly be more appropriate). They do so fielding an ensemble of four players – the flute, violin, harpsichord and gamba required to perform the beautiful trio sonata Bach built around Frederick the Great’s tortuous but haunting theme. It means that this is not as colourful a recording as those by Ensemble Sonnerie (Virgin, 7/96) or Le Concert des Nations (Alia Vox, 12/01), and that there is no possibility of an ensemble rendition of the six-part Ricercar, but thankfully the harpsichord-playing of Maude Gratton is one of the highlights of the disc. On a fine-sounding but uncredited instrument, she allows enough air into the six-part Ricercar to prevent its texture from becoming senselessly thick, and is sprightly and clear in the freer-spirited three-part Ricercar.
Nor is there a shortage of wisdom elsewhere. As ever with this group, everything is very particular and refined, and I enjoyed the way they characterised the canons, giving a courtly gamba-and-harpsichord feel to the one celebrating the augmentation of the King’s fortunes, and a noble solemnity to the one whose upward modulations mimic the rise of his glory. Only the Trio Sonata disappoints: the opening Largo is a touch flat-footed and the third-movement Andante too polite, its striking, Empfindsamer gestures underplayed and lacking the boldness and excitement revealed in the recording of this sonata by Musica ad Rhenum (Vanguard, 11/96). To my mind only the finale picks up the pace as it should. A bit more space in the recording, and around the violin in particular, would also have been an improvement, and at no great cost in essential clarity.