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English Suite No.3 in G Minor BWV808

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)

English Suite No. 3 in G minor BWV808

1. Prelude
2. Allemande
3. Courante
4. Sarabande
5. Gavotte I
6. Gavotte II (Musette)
7. Repetatur Gavotte 1
8. Gigue

J.S. Bach wrote his six English Suites around the year 1715. Their only claim to having any English connection is that they are reputed to have been written for a distinguished and influential Englishman. But their title also conveniently distinguishes them from the composer's French Suites, as the two collections of dances differ considerably in both style and sentiment. Unlike the more capricious and colourful French Suites, which reflect some truly French characteristics, the English Suites are more substantial, sombre and often inward-looking. Yet, at the same time they exhibit the unmistakable rhythmic, harmonic and contrapuntal life-force that was so unique to Bach, expressing both a feeling of cosmic inevitability, through the perfection of form and structure, and a magical and mysterious beauty through the extraordinary originality of their harmonic direction. As with all Bach's music, they present a highly elusive and greatly demanding challenge to the performer, who must convey those wonderfully complimentary elements of head and heart in perfect accord.

Bach composed four out of the six English Suites in the minor key. The third suite, played here, is in G minor, which gives it a strikingly powerful atmosphere, as virtually all the dances in this suite is essentially permeated by the sadder and more elegiac tones of the minor key. On the other hand, as a contrast that Bach probably felt was necessary to offset the predominantly wistful atmosphere, it also includes some passages with intricate and sometimes complex contrapuntal and rhythmic figurations, again presenting very considerable demands to the performer. The final movement of the Third Suite brings a new element into that collection of dances - less energetic than the Second Suite's finale, it is nevertheless a Gavotte with many 'catchy' surprises, and a spectacular apotheosis at the end.

Jon Tolansky


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