As is well known, Bach specified no instrumentation for what James Gaines - "Evening in the Palace of Reason" - calls one of "the most sublime reaches of learned counterpoint", along with the "Goldberg Variations", "Variations on Vom Himmel hoch", and The Musical Offering. Wanting to get to know this music better, I bought two versions, of which this was one. I think one of the reasons why I found this the recording of choice was the fact that Sir Neville Marriner and Andrew Davis have arranged each Contrapunctus for different instrumental groups, or soloists. This provides a range of musical colour which performances for string quartet or viols, for example, cannot. This is not so much a weakness in other settings, merely an admission of the shortccomings of this listener. I can now see why the likes of Frederick the Great turned against Bach: he IS difficult listening; Telemann is not. But I know with whom I would choose to spend the evening!
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