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Anna Magdalena Bach may have had a big child-bearing burden, but musically she was a lucky young woman: the pieces her husband Johann Sebastian wrote for her were both educational tools and supreme works of art. The French Suites
are not as elaborate as their English counterparts, but whereas the latter were written for the harpsichord, the former were for the domestic clavichord--a much more intimate instrument. Bach couldn't refrain from embellishing and exploring--the technical demands may be modest, but the effects are often orchestral in their richness. He himself didn't label them "French"--that was done after his death--but with their allemandes, sarabandes and gigues they perfectly mirror the French dance styles all the rage in the 1720s. Christopher Hogwood's recordings were made in the mid-1980s, and are unfussily serviceable, but there are better things on the market. Try instead Gustav Leonhardt's version
or--if you find those too magisterial--try Davitt Moroney's
. There you will get all the colour and drama which these works ideally demand. --Michael Church