Five of the best Bach transcriptions
The BBC Music Magazine team names their favourite interpretations and arrangements of works by the Baroque legend
Elgar – Fantasia and Fugue in C minor
Elgar’s orchestration is magical, taking one of Bach’s most austere organ works and giving it a tender, nostalgic touch – the use of the harp in the Fantasia is divine, as is the lead into the fugue with plangent oboe… The fugue itself romps along from its opening strident strings to blasting brass. Elgar makes the fugal lines sing out, and adds wonderful cascading flourishes here and there alongside rasping trumpets and outrageous percussion scoring to add to the orchestral colour. Oliver Condy, editor
Camerata Brasil – Italian Concerto in F, BWV 971 - Allegro
Camerata Brasil’s Bach in Brazil album provided the soundtrack to my summer in 2000, the year of its release. Here you have well-known JSB works combined with the choro, a Brazilian instrumental music style that dates back to the mid-19th century – instruments such as the mandolin, viola caipira and cavaquinho all join in the fun here.
Though ingenious arrangements of works such as the Double Violin Concerto in D minor and Brandenburg Concerto No. 6 all feature on the album, it’s the opening Italian Concerto in F that is, for me, the pick of the bunch. It’s all infectiously buoyant stuff, full of South American sunshine. Mix yourself a caipirinha, sit in the sun… and enjoy! Jeremy Pound, deputy editor
August Stradal – Trio Sonata No. 4 BWV 528 – Andante
I loved everything about Vikingur Olafsson’s recent Bach disc for Deutsche Grammophon, and I clearly wasn’t alone as it was named Recording of the Year at our Awards. But there is one particular piece that I keep coming back to: August Stradal’s arrangement of the Andante from JS Bach’s Organ (or Trio) Sonata No. 4 in E minor.
I hadn’t come across the Bohemian musician before, but his thoughtful take on Bach seems to tap into its very essence. The music begins in a mood of resigned serenity that builds into something like majestic awe, as if the listener were walking around a deep, still lake to the foot of a towering mountain. It’s peaceful and profound. Rebecca Franks, managing editor
Stokowski – Toccata and Fugue in D minor
Probably one of the most famous pieces of organ music in the world, Bach’s mighty Toccata and Fugue was transcribed for full orchestra in the 1920s by Leopold Stokowski. The result adds blood and thunder to what was already a spine-tingling piece of music.
Originally performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra, Stokowski’s arrangement came to prominence thanks to its use in the opening segment of Walt Disney’s Fantasia (1940). It accompanies live footage of the orchestra, illuminated by unusual patterns of light, followed by a section of rather abstract animation! Michael Beek, reviews editor
Brad Mehldau – After Bach
Bach is ripe territory for jazz musicians. A renowned improviser himself, Bach lends himself to the jazz form particularly well. Jazz pianist Brad Mehldau’s 2018 album After Bach responds directly to Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier: Mehldau performs four preludes and one fugue from the collection, interspersed with original compositions taking inspiration from each piece. He switches up tempos, puts things in jerky time signatures and takes the harmonies to unusual places.
Bach’s initial pieces become themes, and Mehldau’s variations. Garry Booth reviewed the album in the April 2018 issue of BBC Music Magazine, writing ‘the original compositions’ densely woven two-handed runs with bittersweet phrasings and accents are a richly satisfying counterpoint to the nuanced but respectful Bach pieces’. Enough said, really. Freya Parr, editorial assistant
Oliver Condy is the former Editor of BBC Music Magazine, a post he held for 17 years. His debut book, Symphonies of the Soul: Classical Music to Cure Any Ailment, will be released in November 2021 with Octopus Books. He is also a semi-professional organist, having previously given recitals in Bach’s churches across Germany.
Jeremy Pound is currently BBC Music Magazine’s Deputy Editor, a role he has held since 2004. Before that, he was the features editor of Classic CD magazine, and has written for a colourful array of publications ranging from Music Teacher to History Revealed, Total Football and Environment Action; in 2018, he edited and co-wrote The King’s Singers: Gold 50th anniversary book.
Michael is the Reviews Editor of BBC Music Magazine. He was previously a freelance film music journalist and spent 15 years at St George's Bristol. Michael specialises in film and television music and was the Editor of MusicfromtheMovies.com. He has written for the BBC Proms, BBC Concert Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Royal Albert Hall, Hollywood in Vienna and Silva Screen Records.
Freya Parr is BBC Music Magazine's Digital Editor and Staff Writer. She has also written for titles including the Guardian, Circus Journal, Frankie and Suitcase Magazine, and runs The Noiseletter, a fortnightly arts and culture publication. Freya's main areas of interest and research lie in 20th-century and contemporary music.