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Customer reviews

3.0 out of 5 stars
3.0 out of 5 stars

on 18 October 2009
I am moved to respond to the previous unreasonably negative review of these excellent and scholarly performances.
I paid three times today's price of this album when I bought it 15 years ago and have never regretted it.
If you can't abide the sound of the harpsichord, these are not for you! Go for someone like Angela Hewitt instead. If some of the keys sound a bit "odd" this could well be because Hogwood is playing instruments with uneven temperament - just as Bach did.
As a bonus you get two extra, rarely-performed, Bach keyboard suites. What a bargain!
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on 3 November 2009
There are not that many recordings of these suites played on the harpsichord. Apart from this one, I have in my collection only the recording made in 1993 by Keith Jarrett, which, different as it indisputably is, is also fine and deeply felt. Christopher Hogwood is these days by far most renowned as a conductor. He, however, also plays the keyboard part on most of his recordings, and considering how well this is done I have often wondered why he never got around to making more recordings of the solo works of J. S. Bach, as well as why he left the harpsichord to Christophe Rousset on his renderings of the concertos from the late nineties. Still, I can't blame him for feeling a bit thinly spread with all the fine discs he has left us over the last thirty-odd years. Hogwoods insight into the artistic mind of the Baroque composer is simply second to none, and these French Suites, quite apart from being no doubt the ones closest in style and sound to how Bach would have wanted them, are fine and crisp examples of that particular kind of courtly elegance so popular in the 1720's. If one can appreciate the timbre of the slightly clangy harpsichord one needs look no further than to this set for a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

It is always dangerous to compare recordings of keyboard music played on old, original instruments (in this case harpsichords restored in the 1780's) with recordings made on a modern piano, no matter how much it may have been altered for the purpose - Gould's version of the suites being a case in point. When adding apples and oranges - as we were all taught in arithmetic not to do - one is likely to end up with strange and misleading results, and in the case of music this is fair to neither instrument nor artist. Consequently I have to say that I find the review of Mr. J. K. Carvell to be missing the point entirely. His objections to the Hogwood recording clearly have the ring of being more about not liking the sound of the harpsichord than finding faults with the interpretation of the music. It is like saying that you prefer skiing to rice pudding (which is anyone's privilege, of course), and as such I can only recommend that if you prefer the sound of a Steinway Grand Piano you probably shouldn't go and buy a harpsichord, as you are likely to be massively disappointed doing so. That Gould's recording (one of five versions in my collection using a modern piano) is fine and extremely personal is not in dispute, but I doubt Bach would have liked it, and it is to the n'th degree apples to Hogwood's oranges.

I would probably under normal circumstances have rated the Hogwood recording a four, but to remedy what I consider a disgraceful rating of two (and a bit out of sheer bloody-mindedness, I suppose) I will rate it a full five. Nobody laying down the relatively few quids to acquire it - and who knows the sound of Hogwood's historic Bach recordings - is likely to complain anyway.
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on 19 October 2007
This is Christopher Hogwood's 1983 recording of 8 keyboard suites by JS Bach written in the French manner.In addition to the 6 well known suites,Hogwood also chose to record BWV 818 and 819 which are sometimes found coupled with the 6 "main suites" (BWV 812-817) in surviving manuscript sources.Quite simply there is no better or more authentically performed account of these works to date despite some of the other negative reviews found here.Christopher Hogwood performs superbly well throughout and great care is taken to find the right natural tempo for the various dance movements upon which the suites are based.Some other performers for example take the famous gigue of suite no 5 at such a galloping pace that the piece loses it's direct appeal as a DANCE movement whereas Hogwood play's it buoyant but not frantic so that it actually makes sense.

The 2 harpsichords used for this recording are both antiques - a Ruckers and a Goujon both from the Musee de la Musique in Paris where the recording was made and for me the only slight drawback here is that they are recorded a little too close hence why i have dropped 1 star.

In my view Christopher Hogwood's set remains the finest account of Bach's French Suites on harpsichord closely followed by Kenneth Gilbert and Gustav Leonhardt.Altogether this is a fitting document to the musicianship and scholarship of a period instrument stalward.
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on 3 June 2013
The best keyboard music by Bach, played with spirit and vigour on a good instrument, can provide heavenly experiences. For me, I've had such experiences listening to versions on modern piano and period harpsichord. For instance, I was recently taken to cloud 9 by Pinnock's version of Bach's Partitas, on a period harpsichord, and Perahia's version of the concertos on a modern piano. But Hogwood's versions of the French Suites I didn't like at all. It's an extremely monotonous outing for some fairly minor Bach. I've listened to it twice, and I can't bear the thought of listening to it again.
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on 12 September 2009
When looking for a recording of the French Suites it is difficult to know where to start, considering how many recordings there are out there.
Well I wouldn't advise starting here. I bought this recording and one by Gould and I have to say the Gould outclasses Hogwood at every turn. Hogwood, in this recording, has opted for a harpsichord tempered in the manner of a 17th century harpsichord, which whilst effective in some keys, sounds odd and jarring at times; for example, the start of the Eb Major suite. This movement sums up the whole recording, it is an Allemande which I suppose should probably be quite grandiose, slow and majestic. However, in Hogwood's hands it sounds laboured, bloated and rather self-indulgent. Don't buy this disc, get Gould's recording - much more illuminating, much better technique and a great deal more fun.
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on 27 March 2012
"Comrades - welcome to the hollowed-out volcano, the global headquarters of SPECTRE (Sinister Period-Practice Enacted to Counter Traditional Readings Everlastingly). You are our future! We're glad you're here!"

Thus spoke the SPECTRE flunkey to the graduate-intake of 2012 - some fifty or so young musicians, evenly split evenly between the sexes. Every continent on earth bar Antarctica was represented in the ranks.

"You have been chosen for your fidelity to the Cause," the flunkey trumpeted, "and your bloodlessness. Your classes start tomorrow with a series of lectures on our ideological enemies - Tsarists such as Beecham, Mengelberg, Stokowski, Klemperer, Furtwangler and Karajan. Mensheviks such as Sir Neville Marriner will also be addressed. To assist you with your acclimatisation, we've provided you with an induction-pack - you'll find it under your seats. Please open it up."

The graduates did so with excitement.

"In addition to the usual sweets `n treats, you'll find a book titled `How to Clip Phrases, Leach Grandeur from Works and Gallivant around Europe on a Whimsical Bach Pilgrimage' by - you've guessed it - Number Four: Sir John Eliot Gardiner. Jeggy drops in here quite often - and he likes being asked for his autograph so keep your copy at hand. It's accompanied by a second book: `How I Learned to Stop Worrying about my Gonads and Became a Counter Tenor' by Rene Jacobs, who is Number Five in our Organisation. Rene has made the ultimate sacrifice for SPECTRE. He warrants adulation."

The flunkey drew a breath.

"But we have saved the best for last. If you look at the bottom of your packs, you'll find a copy of Bach's French Suites, performed by Number One himself - Ernst Hogwood-Blofeld - in November 1983. What a treasure it is! It is a landmark recording by any standard! By this singular exercise of his genius, Number One nullified all recordings of this masterwork on those hideous Steinways or Bosendorfers. Who can doubt it is the definitive performance?"

Now as chance would so have it, one of the graduates was a young man called John who hailed from a reservation in New Mexico where the savages worshipped the last surviving copy of Furtwangler's Matthew Passion. He had been extracted from such dire circumstances by SPECTRE and fed into the system. Rumour has it that his father was a high-level functionary at the clipped organisation but who was to know. With an impish grin, John turned to the graduate next to him, a priggish-looking stick-man with a beard from Antwerp.

"I know all about this wretched little recording," he hooted. "We used to laugh at it back on the reservation! In fact it's so metronomic, we set our clocks to it. Pale and timid by turns, it makes even the Schiff look colossal - and who would have thought that such a thing was possible? (Bach: Six French Suites). Where does one start with it? The inflexibility? The anaemia? The primness? Its fear of grandeur? Its lead-footed acknowledgement of the dance-element to these pieces? It's hard to know what not to laugh at. If one wanted to be fair, one would say it's a recital by a high school graduate but hell, who wants to be fair in the face of such offal. It's no wonder Hogweed later vacated the keyboard to the likes of Levin (in Mozart) and Lubin (in Beethoven). I cannot believe that anyone would listen to it in preference to the likes of Richter (Richter - The Authorised Recordings - Bach), Hewitt (Bach: French Suites, Gavrilov (EMI, not DG Bach: French Suites 1-6, English Suite No.3, Italian Concerto (GEMINI) ) and even the Werewolf Bach: French Suites, BWV 812-817 (Glenn Gould Anniversary Edition)."

This discourse was promptly reported to the authorities. John was summoned to the office of Number One himself. Some of his buddies waited outside pensively. Was their friend about to disappear forever? After all, the famous `seating arrangement' was known to them. One hour later, fear turned to surprise when the door opened and John strolled out with a bag of lollies in hand. He smiled.
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