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Essential Bach

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) had many professional responsibilities and relationships with patrons and other musicians throughout his life that involved writing special music. The prolific composer was himself a virtuoso keyboard player and violinist who excelled in writing instrumental music, and he was a church musician and man of devout Christian faith who composed a variety of eloquent sacred music. As a result, Bach left a significant body of work.

To acquire a complete recording collection of Bach’s compositions would be a dramatic commitment of time and financial resources. Therefore, I’ve jotted down this broad overview of “Essential Bach” music and some suggested recordings. It is NOT intended to be a conclusive, exhaustive or definitive survey of his work. Rather, I propose it as a starting point to explore Bach’s extraordinary legacy and some of the musicians who do justice to it, in my opinion. It’s meant to augment the March 24, 2019 playlist for the Sunday Baroque Bach Birthday Bash, so you can assume everything on the playlist is also worth your consideration. This list is, by definition, highly subjective – these are my opinions and suggestions for where to begin and which performers I admire. It is also an incomplete list, because Bach’s output is too far-reaching and enormous to encapsulate in one simple list. I consider this an open-ended recommendation that will undoubtedly change and expand with new and alternate performances of these and other Bach compositions.

Brandenburg Concertos BWV 1046-1051

Akademie Fur Alte Musik Berlin – Harmonia Mundi 901634/35

Ensemble Caprice – Analekta AN 9996-7

Orchestra Mozart – Deutsche Grammophon 4778908

Mass in b minor BWV 232

Bach Choir of Bethlehem & Bach Festival Orchestra – Dorian 90253

Boston Baroque – Telarc 80517

Collegium Vocale Chorus & Orchestra – Harmonia Mundi 901614/5

Orchestral Suites BWV 1066-1069

Bach Collegium Japan – BIS 1431

Boston Baroque – Telarc 80619

Ensemble Sonnerie – AVIE 2171

Violin and Harpsichord Sonatas BWV 1014-1019

Rachel Barton Pine – violin and Jory Vinikour – harpsichord – Cedille CDR 90000 177

Isabelle Faust – violin and Kristian Bezuidenhout – harpsichord – Harmonia Mundi 902256/57

Michelle Makarski – violin and Keith Jarrett – piano – ECM New Series 2230/31

Violin Concertos BWV 1041-1043

Hilary Hahn – violin, Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra – Deutsche Grammophon B0000986

Joshua Bell – violin, Academy of St. Martin in the Fields – Sony 88843

Gottfried von der Goltz – violin, Freiburg Baroque Orchestra – Harmonia Mundi HMC 902145

Suites for Unaccompanied Cello BWV 1007-1012

Yo-Yo Ma – cello – SIX EVOLUTIONS (Sony 190758 54652) & INSPIRED BY BACH (Sony 63203)

Janos Starker – cello – RCA 61436

Matt Haimovitz – cello – Pentatone 5186 555

St Matthew Passion BWV 244

Academy of Ancient Music, Richard Egarr – AAM Records AAM004

Collegium Vocale, Philippe Herreweghe – Harmonia Mundi 951676/78

Concentus Musicus Vienna & Arnold Schoenberg Chorus, Nikolaus Harnoncourt – Teldec 81036

Goldberg Variations BWV 988

Richard Egarr – harpsichord – Harmonia Mundi 907425/46

Peter Serkin – piano – RCA 68188

Simone Dinnerstein – piano – Telarc 80692

Organ Works and Cantatas – BWV various

JS Bach

NOTE: Bach wrote A LOT of cantatas and solo organ music, and there are a few box sets that have them all. They are fine recordings, but they are a splurge and a big commitment. For cantatas I recommend the collections by ensembles such as Bach Collegium Japan with Masaaki Suzuki, Bach-Collegium Stuttgart with Helmut Rilling, or the Bach Pilgrimage series recorded by John Eliot Gardiner with the Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists. For complete organ collections, try organists such as Ton Koopman, Marie-Claire Alain, and Simon Preston. However, if you want to tread more modestly into these arenas without breaking the bank try these:

Philippe Herreweghe, La Chapelle Royale & Collegium Vocale – Bach: The Most Beautiful Cantatas – Harmonia Mundi 2908091/95

Masaaki Suzuki, Bach Collegium Japan – Bach Secular Cantatas – BIS 1411

Joshua Rifkin, Bach Ensemble – My Favorite Bach: Six Favorite Cantatas BWV 147, 80, 140, 8, 51, 78 – L’Oiseau Lyre 455706 

John Eliot Gardiner, Monteverdi Choir & English Baroque Soloists – Bach: Cantatas Vol. 1 – City of London – Soli Deo Gloria 101

John Eliot Gardiner, Monteverdi Choir & English Baroque Soloists – Bach: Cantatas Vol.12 – Tooting/Winchester – Soli Deo Gloria 171

Ton Koopman – organ – Organ Spectacular: Famous Organ Works by Bach – Teldec 8573-82041-9

Masaaki Suzuki – organ – Bach Organ Works: Volume 1 – BIS 2111 & Bach Organ Works Volume 2 – BIS 2241

Peter Hurford – organ – JS Bach Great Organ Works – Decca 443 485-2

David Goode – organ – JS BACH Organ Music – Signum SIGCD261

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2018 Holiday Gift List

Sunday Baroque gift list


Every year at this time, I create a list of suggestions for holiday gift giving. Starting November 25th and continuing through December, you can audition some of my recommendations from the annual Sunday Baroque Holiday Gift List. All of us at Sunday Baroque wish you and yours a happy, healthy, and safe holiday season filled with laughter, peace and an abundance of good music!


Johann Sebastian Bach – 6 Unaccompanied Cello Suites
Yo-Yo Ma – cello
Sony 54652

Johann Sebastian Bach’s 6 unaccompanied cello suites are the “holy grail” for all serious cellists. They are technically demanding and musically complex and intricate. This is cellist Yo-Yo Ma’s third recording of Bach’s cello suites; all three recordings are masterful, and this fresh approach is a welcome and highly appealing addition to your collection.

Turlough O’Carolan, Traditional Irish, Traditional Scottish – lute solos
Ronn McFarlane – lute
Sono Luminus DSL-92225

Ronn McFarlane is one of the world’s foremost lute players. He plays his own thoughtful arrangements of these lovely Irish and Scottish solos. It’s charming, lilting and intimate.

Vivaldi Le Quattro StagioniVIVALDI - LE QUATTRO STAGIONI
Vivaldi Concertos
Rachel Podger – violin, Brecon Baroque
Channel Classics 40318

As a baroque music expert, violinist Rachel Podger approaches Antonio Vivaldi’s Concertos with confidence and flair. She collaborates with her colleagues in Brecon Baroque to perform Vivaldi’s beloved Four Seasons concertos, as well as three other Vivaldi concertos: Concerto RV270 IL RIPOSO PER IL S.S. NATALE, Concerto RV271 L’AMOROSO and Concerto RV208 IL GROSSO MOGUL.

Sonatas by Janitsch
Tempesta di Mare
Chandos CHAN 0820

Johann Gottlieb Janitsch was one of the top musicians who worked for King Frederick of Prussia. Although much of the German composer’s music was lost during World War II, some of his music survived and was preserved thanks to a woman named Sara Levy, a harpsichordist who had an extensive collection of baroque era music. Tempesta di Mare Chamber Players plays Janitsch’s music from Sara Levy’s archives.

Music by Jean-Féry Rebel and Georg Philipp Telemann
Le Concert des Nations, Jordi Savall
Alia Vox 9929

Dance is a significant part of the baroque repertory, and French baroque dance music is especially charming and cheery. This November 2018 release features happy and upbeat music that is just a bit off the beaten track.

Christina Day Martinson – violin, Boston Baroque, Martin Pearlman

Christina Day Martinson is concertmaster of the period instrument group BOSTON BAROQUE, which is led by Martin Pearlman. Their recent recording of Heinrich Biber’s 15 Sonatas on the Mysteries of the Rosary was a “spiritual journey” for Christina Day Martinson that yielded a satisfying listening experience.

Sonatas & Chamber Music by Antonio Bertali, Heinrich Biber, Johann Heinrich Schmelzer, and Johann Hermann Schein
Chatham Baroque
NO HOLDS BARRED is Chatham Baroque’s recording of music written in the so-called “fantastic style” which was an improvisational and virtuosic style of music-making. These are spirited performances of interesting yet less well-known baroque music.

Sacred music by Tomas Luis de Victoria
Stile Antico
Harmonia Mundi HMM 902272

The British vocal group Stile Antico sings music by 16th century Spanish composer TOMAS LUIS DE VICTORIA – his music for the Christian observance of holy week. Beautiful, ethereal and uplifting.

Concertos by Bach + Glass
Simone Dinnerstein – piano, A Far Cry
Orange Mountain Music 0127

Pianist Simone Dinnerstein has a special affinity for Johann Sebastian Bach’s music – hearing the genius in the way the composer deviates from the expected, and is expressive and soulful in unusual ways. This recording juxtaposes Bach’s Keyboard Concerto #7 with a concerto by contemporary composer Philip Glass written especially for her. The Boston area group A FAR CRY is also featured.

Sonatas for violin and harpsichord
Rachel Barton Pine – violin, Jory Vinikour – harpsichord
Cedille CDR 90000 177

Violinist Rachel Barton Pine and harpsichordist Jory Vinikour enjoy international careers as soloists, chamber musicians, and ensemble collaborators. They recently teamed up to record Johann Sebastian Bach’s Sonatas for violin and Harpsichord, and the warmth of their personal friendship shines through in these fine performances.


We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to and affiliated sites.

2017 Holiday Gift List

Sunday Baroque gift list


Every year at this time, I create a list of suggestions for holiday gift giving. Starting November 19th and continuing through December, you can audition some of my recommendations from the annual Sunday Baroque Holiday Gift List.  All of us at Sunday Baroque wish you and yours a happy, healthy, and safe holiday season filled with laughter, peace and an abundance of good music!




Harmonia Mundi 902296

Le Caravanésrail, Rachel Redmond – soprano

Period instrument ensemble Le Caravansérail plays a lovely collection of English baroque music by composers including Matthew Locke, Christopher Gibbons, Louis Grabu, John Blow and Henry Purcell. It’s an appealing collection of charming instrumentals as well as sassy theatre songs, sung by soprano Rachel Redmond.




Nonesuch 558933

Yo-Yo Ma – cello, Chris Thile – mandolin, Edgar Meyer – bass

Three extraordinary musicians join forces to play music by Johann Sebastian Bach in an unusual combination of instruments. Many (but not all) of the selections are familiar favorites, and the result is satisfying and beautiful. This is one of my personal favorite recordings of 2017!




ECM New Series 2530/31

Thomas Demenga – cello

The renowned cellist tackles the “Holy Grail” of the cello repertory for the second time. This is a lovely recording by a skilled and thoughtful musician. You can even hear my recent conversation with Thomas Demenga about this recording of Bach’s Suites, the cello he used to play them, and his approach to music making in general. It’s archived at in the “interviews” section.




Chaconne CHAN 0816

The Harmonious Society of Tickle-Fiddle Gentlemen

The whimsical name of this ensemble alone should make you want to buy this CD! But if that’s not enough, it’s well worth it for these joyful, expert performances of appealing music by a not-very-well-known 18th century Czech composer. It’s a perfect CD for anyone looking to broaden their horizons!




Deutsche Grammophon 4796922

Daniel Hope – violin, Zurich Chamber Orchestra

Antonio Vivaldi’s Four Seasons Concertos are the cornerstone of this fine recording, which also includes music Daniel Hope considers seasonal in its own ways. Other composers on this imaginative, thematic cd include Johann Sebastian Bach, Jean-Philippe Rameau, Johannes Brahms, Robert Schumann, and Kurt Weill. The violinist’s signature is his polished artistry, imaginative programming and sophisticated collaborations with other top musicians.




Channel Classics CCSSA39217

Rachel Podger – violin, Brecon Baroque

Four world-class musicians collaborate on violin sonatas by Antonio Vivaldi, Francesco Maria Veracini, Giuseppe Tartini and Johann Georg Pisendel. Violinist Rachel Podger, cellist Alison McGillivray, theorbo player Daniele Caminiti, and harpsichordist Marcin Świątkiewicz give a joyful performance of some lovely chamber music.




Early Music EMCCD7777

Claire Guimond – flute, Alexa Raine-Wright – flute, Jean-Louis Blouin – viola, Arion Baroque Orchestra

The period instrument group Arion plays spirited music by two composers from the later years of the baroque era – Georg Philipp Telemann and Johann Joaquim Quantz. Both men pursued music against their parents’ wishes for them, and both proved their families wrong by becoming accomplished musical innovators.




Hyperion CDA68184

Angela Hewitt – piano

This is the second of pianist Angela Hewitt’s two (so far) volumes of Sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti. I am impressed that she is not merely plowing through Scarlatti’s Sonatas in order, like some monumental task to be completed. Instead she chose Sonatas she personally loves – it is evident in her playing, and makes for a delightful listening experience.




Harmonia Mundi HMM902261

Akademie Fur Alte Musik Berlin

One of the world’s top period instrument ensembles takes on Concertos for multiple instruments by one of the most prolific composers of all time, Georg Philipp Telemann. What makes this recording extra special is that some of the featured instruments are off the beaten path, such as calchedon (a type of lute), hammer dulcimer and mandolin, in addition to more familiar instruments including oboes, horns and violins.

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Tour Classical Germany With Us

Suzanne BonaAs host of Sunday Baroque, I am thrilled to invite you for an extraordinary musical journey through Germany this fall. We’ll stroll through some of the country’s most beautiful cities, walk in the footsteps of the great Baroque composers and attend several fabulous classical music performances along the way. In addition to the rich music, we’ll immerse ourselves in the art, food, history, and wine of Germany.

In the Footsteps of the Great German Composers      October 2 – October 13, 2017The Vienna Opera House

Avant-garde architecture gives way to days of musical heritage and living history in Leipzig, which Goethe called “Little Paris”. Formerly located in Eastern Germany, this university town was once home to Bach and Goethe and claims Germany’s oldest symphony orchestra which you have tickets to attend! After exploring the quaint villages surrounding Leipzig our journey continues east to the ‘Florence of the North’, Dresden! Here we’ll sample Saxon wines, stroll through museums bursting with masterpieces and tour the Dresden State Opera House. Don’t miss out. Please join me, Suzanne Bona, host of Sunday Baroque, and fellow public radio listeners to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Sunday Baroque in Germany this fall! Space is limited.


Classical Germany with Sunday Baroque and WSHU

Playlist 2016-06-19

Father’s Day
Orlando Gibbons
Christopher Gibbons
Toyohiko Satoh & Miki Satoh “Ayumi”

First Hour

Christopher Simpson (c.1605-1669), Fantasia #6 in a: June (from The Monthes), Sophie Watillon – dessus de viole, Friederike Heumann & Brian Franklin – basses de viole, Matthias Spaeter – theorbo, Luca Guglielmi-organ, Alpha 88, C. SIMPSON:THE SEASONS,THE MONTHES & OTHER DIVISIONS OF TIME – 1

Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625), Almighty and everlasting God & O clap your hands together, Stile Antico, Harmonia Mundi HMU 807572, THE PHOENIX RISING

Christopher Gibbons (1615-1676), Fantasia, Academy of Ancient Music, Richard Egarr, Harmonia Mundi HMU 807551, CHRISTOPHER GIBBONS MOTETS, ANTHEMS, FANTASIAS & VOLUNTARIES

Johann Friedrich Fasch (1688-1758), Concerto in Bb for chalumeau, 2 oboes, 2 violins, viola & b.c., Accademia Daniel, Shalev Ad-El, Gili Rinot – chalumeau, cpo, 674, JOHANN FRIEDRICH FASCH CANTATAS OVERTURE IN D MINOR, CONCERTO Bb

Carl Friedrich Christian Fasch (1736-1800), Concerto in E for Trumpet, Oboe d’amore, violin & strings, The Philharmonia, Christopher Warren-Green, John Wallace – trumpet, Peter Thomas – violin, John Anderson – oboe d’amore, Nimbus, 7016, HAYDN’S TRUMPET CONCERTO AND OTHER CLASSICAL CONCERTI

William Mundy (c.1530-before 1591), Adolescentulus sum ego, The Sixteen, Harry Christophers, Coro, COR16119, THE VOICE OF THE TURTLE DOVE

John Mundy (c.1555-1630), In midst of woods – The Blackbird, Piffaro Renaissance Band, Navona Records NV5823, WAYTES: ENGLISH MUSIC FOR A RENAISSANCE BAND

Second Hour

Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741), Gloria RV588: Et in terra pax, Ensemble Caprice, Matthias Maute, Analekta AN 2 9995, THE RETURN OF ANGELS

Alessandro Scarlatti (1660-1725), Sonata #7 in D, Musica Pacifica, Dorian 93192, CONCERTI DA CAMERA

Domenico Scarlatti (1685-17, Sonata in b K.87, Matthew Glenn Quick – piano, Milaura Records MR0620141, DEDICATION

Sylvius Leopold Weiss (1687-1750), Suite in d: Un poco Andante & Le Sicilien, Toyohiko Satoh – lute, Miki Satoh – lute, Carpe Diem 16275, BAROQUE LUTE DUETS

Anonymous (ca.1640), Greensleeves to a Ground, Hesperion XXI, Jordi Savall – viola da gamba, Arianna Savall – harp, Xavier Diaz-Latorre – guitar, Alia Vox 9811, LA BARCHA D’AMORE 1563-1685

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), Sonata for Violin and Harpsichord No.3 in E, BWV 1016, Janine Jansen – violin, Jan Jansen – harpsichord, Decca B0019301, JANINE JANSEN BACH CONCERTOS

Third Hour

Jacques Arcadelt (1507-1568), Pater noster, Josquin Capella, Meinolf Bruser, cpo 777763, JACQUES ARCADELT SACRED WORKS

Antoine Forqueray (1671-1745), Première suite – 6. La Couperin, Nima Ben David – basse de viole, Jonathan Rubin – theorbo & baroque guitar, Alpha 007, COUPERIN & FORQUERAY – PIECES DE VIOLES

Jean Baptiste Antoine Forqueray (1699-1782), Pieces a trois violes par Monsieur Forcroy: allemande & sarabande, Vittorio Ghielmi – viola da gamba, Rodney Prada – viola da gamba, Luca Pianca – archlute, Lorenzo Ghielmi – harpsichord, Passacaille 995, FORQUERAY LE DIABLE

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), Concerto in C BWV1061, Bach Collegium Japan, Masaaki Suzuki, Masaaki Suzuki – harpsichord, Masato Suzuki – harpsichord, BIS, 2051, CONCERTOS FOR TWO HARPSICHORDS

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), Aria for two trumpets BWV78, Paillard Chamber Orchestra, Jean Francois Paillard, Maurice Andre – trumpet, Lionel Andre – trumpet, Erato 88016, MAURICE ANDRE PLAYS J.S. BACH

Johann Pachelbel (1653-1706), Canon in D, Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra, Leonard Slatkin, Telarc 80080, PACHELBEL KANON

Charles Theodore Pachelbel (1690-1750), Magnificat anima mea Dominum, The Columbus Consort, Channel Classics 5693, CHRISTMAS IN EARLY AMERICA: 18TH C. CAROLS & ANTHEMS

Fourth Hour

Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767), Trumpet Concerto in D TWV51:D7: adagio & allegro, American Concerto Orchestra, Stephen Burns, Stephen Burns – trumpet, Dorian 80132, TELEMANN FOR TRUMPET

Johann Sebastian Bach (attrib) CPE Bach, Flute Sonata in A BWV1032, Philippa Davies – flute, Maggie Cole – harpsichord, AVIE 2101, JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH FLUTE SONATAS

Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, (attributed to JS), Suite for Orchestra in g BWV 1070, Musica Antiqua Koln, Reinhard Goebel, Deutsche Grammophon 415671, J.S. BACH: SUITES FOR ORCHESTRA BWV1066-1070

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), Concerto in E BWV1053, Concerto Copenhagen, Lars Ulrik Mortensen, Larks Ulrik Mortensen – harpsichord, cpo 999 989-2, J.S. BACH: HARPSICHORD CONCERTOS VOL.1 LARS ULRIK MORTENSEN