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Musical Offering BWV 1079

Ensemble Aurora

Bach’s Musical Offering from Ensemble Aurora


Bach: Musical Offering

Musical Offering BWV 1079 [46:40]
Sonata for Violin and Bass continuo BWV 1021
Trio Sonata for Flute, Violin, and Bass continuo BWV 1038

Enrico Gatti

Aurora String Quartet

Marcello Gatti (Flute); Enrico Gatti (Violin); Gaetano Nasillo (Cello); Guido Morini (Harpsichord)


Nov-Dec 1999

CD / TT: 62:38

Recorded at Haut-Dortoir de l'Abbaye de Fontevraud.
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Donald Satz wrote (May 2, 2001):
Just about a week ago, I finished reviewing seven period instrument recordings of the Musical Offering. Each of them was highly rewarding, and my first preference went to the Ensemble Sonnerie on Virgin Veritas which displayed the greatest instrumental diversity. While reviewing those recordings, I obtained the new issue from Arcana performed by the Ensemble Aurora with Enrico Gatti directing and playing baroque violin. The other performers are Marcello Gatti on flute, Gaetano Nasillo on cello, and Guido Morini on harpsichord. In addition to the Musical Offering, this Arcana disc also has the BWV 1021 Sonata for Violin and Bass continuo and the BWV 1038 Trio Sonata for Flute, Violin, and Bass continuo which is an arrangement of BWV 1021. The catalog number of this well-filled disc is A 306.

I'll start with the Ricercar a 3 & 6. In the Ricercar a 3, Gustav Leonhardt on Pro Arte, Robert Kohnen on the DHM issue, and Fabio Bonizzoni for Arte Resoluta on Arion give outstanding harpsichord performances. Guido Morini for Ensemble Aurora is faster than the other versions and also chops up the music consistently. This version loses much beauty in the process. I'm assuming that Moroni's goal was to maximize the music's urgency, but Bonizzoni does that also and has no need to chop his way through. I can't deny that Moroni gets to the core of the music, but it's not a particularly attractive route that he takes.

For Ricercar a 6, the best solo harpsichord version in my previous review comes from Leonhardt. However, the Ensemble Sonnerie version with six instruments(no keyboard) is even better in an exquisitely nuanced reading. For Arcana, Morini is now joined by his friends, and they acquit themselves very well. Again, quickness is a priority and the reading is urgent and very diverse as it progresses; it's also highly uplifting. This is close to the top level and as good as the Leonhardt issue.

Ensemble Aurora's Narratio Brevis, also known as the Perpetual Canon, is a very serious interpretation that comes at the listener with no relief. Even the flute is grim. Given the approach, it couldn't be done better. However, I prefer Ensemble Sonnerie and the Hanssler versions which manage to convey a few rays of light.

Next is a series of five Canons, Narratio Longa, each one presenting an idea which corresponds to one of the five elements of oratory. The first one is called the Crab Canon. This Canon has great rhythmic bounce and beauty. Ensemble Sonnerie's is a wonderfully vibrant performance which Ensemble Aurora matches; the bounce and snap in each version is superlative.

The second in the series is the 'Canon for two violins in unison'. For me, the Hanssler version with two violins and viola da gamba is perfection. Their violins pierce the heart, and the expressive range and conversational levels are very impressive. Ensemble Aurora does not hold up well here, having to use just one violin. Conversation is sporadic and you can forget about getting your heart pierced.

The series continues with the Canon in Contrary Motion. Aston Magna gives a great performance for flute & strings; the strings are very incisive and add drama and life to the music. Ensemble Aurora only uses flute and harpsichord. I don't care for the instrumentation, and the interpretation is quite dour as well.

The fourth in the series is the 'Canon in augmentation and contrary motion'. The Hanssler on violin & harpsichord owns this Canon with a performance that fully brings out the longing and beauty in the music. Ensemble Aurora adds the baroque cello and the result is a very serious reading. I find it a little overbearing for my tastes. They replace longing with full burden and the music's beauty is reduced.

The last Canon in the series is the 'Modulating Canon'. Ensemble Aurora uses violin and harpsichord, so I compared it to the DHM version featuring Sigiswald Kuijken and Robert Kohnen. It's no contest. In the DHM issue, the beauty and mystery of the music shines through. Ensemble Aurora has a jittery delivery which I don't find appealing.

Next is the three-part Canonic Fugue with uplifting qualities generally greater than in the previous Canons. But it's hard to get a smile out of the Ensemble Aurora members. They have this penchant for serious presentation, and they do it very well. However, I'll go with Arte Resoluta which uses similar instrumentation but conveys a wider range of expressiveness.

The "Enigmatic" Canon in two parts stretches the royal theme in contrary motions. Guido Morini provides a harpsichord solo and performs admirably, although I perfer the more diverse instrumentation of Arte Resoluta. In the "Enigmatic" Canon in four parts, Aston Magna is a favorite of mine. Its uplifting qualities are pervasive and much enhanced by the use of the flute; at the same time, you couldn't find a more incisive reading. Ensemble Aurora does not include the flute and sounds quite heavy.

It's time for the Trio Sonata BWV 1079. The opening Largo finds elements of the royal theme in the bass line. Emotionally, the music is melancholy with a few outstanding rays of light; comfort permeates the atmosphere. Ensemble Aurora finally gets back on track with a comforting yet well projected performance conveying great optimism when needed.

In the second movement Allegro, the royal theme starts appearing in the violin and flute parts, although it's still most prevalent from the continuo. The music has great rhythmic bounce and vitality. Earlier, I criticized Ensemble Aurora for a performance which was a little jittery. That same quality is just the right ticket for this Allegro. The vibrancy leaps out of the speakers. Florilegium, on Channel Classics, also takes the jittery approach and is equally efffective at a slower tempo. Both versions are splendid.

The third movement is an Andante with 'sighs' imprinted throughout the music. As for the royal theme, its first part is found in both the violin and flute. The music is at once both melancholy and uplifting. Florilegium is superb here with the most uplifting performance I've experienced. Ensemble Aurora is a long way off with a performance that is neither uplifting nor highly melancholy as the fine Aston Magna issue. The fourth movement Allegro finds Ensemble Aurora conveying plenty of energy and rhythmic bounce - a fine performance.

The Musical Offering concludes with the Canon Perpetuus which has a walking bass. Above the bass, the violin and flute express the royal subject in a contrary motion. With the second section, the violin and flute voices are inverted with a mirror canon being the result. Ensemble Aurora closes out in great fashion with an infectious performance with wonderful rhythm and even a fine level of optimism.

The Ensemble Aurora's Musical Offering is a fine version fully competitive with the other period instrument recordings I've heard. How well you might take to it likely depends on how serious you want this music to be. If you like it serious, this Arcana disc should be quite pleasureable and rewarding. I do caution that the group does not fare very well in most of the Canons; their strength is in the Ricercars and Trio Sonata.

There are the additional two works from Ensemble Aurora; many recordings of the Musical Offering have no couplings. In BWV 1021, the Ensemble performs excellently. The Presto is particularly rthrough its level of excitement. Although the Adagio and Largo are very good, I was distracted some from a few short note values from the violin. The BWV 1038 arrangement which replaces the violin with the flute although a new violin part is created is not as rewarding as BWV 1021. But even if it was, I would prefer a different work instead of an arrangment. Overall, I don't think that the additional music on the disc pushes this Arcana disc ahead of the

Don's Conclusions: The Ensemble Aurora recording of Bach's Musical Offering is competitive with the other period instrument versions on record. The Ensemble is on the serious side; that will attract a few potential buyers. Be warned that if the Canons are the most significant movements for you, Ensemble Aurora is at its weakest in those pieces. Overall, if you already have some fine versions, there's no need to rush out and find the new one on Arcana. But if you see it in a store, pick it up and enjoy.


Musical Offering BWV 1079: Details
Until 1950 | 1951-1960 | 1961-1970 | 1971-1980 | 1981-1990 | 1991-2000 | From 2001 | Trio Sonata | Ricercars | Ricercar - Webern
MO - Comparative Review | MO - Academy Ensemble | MO - Ensemble Aurora | MO - Kuijken Brothers | MO - J. Savall
General Discussions:
Part 1

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Performers of Instrumental Works: Main Page | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z


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