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Christopher Hogwood, who died in 2014 aged 73, was a seminal figure in the period- instrument movement of the 1970s and 1980s; his performances and recordings with the Academy of Ancient Music, the ensemble he founded in 1973, were acclaimed for their radical freshness and the repertoire they explored.

Before his death, Hogwood had been working with Decca Classics on re-issues of many of his recordings on the L’Oiseau-Lyre label, repackaged into slimline cardboard sleeves and released in clam-shell boxes. Over the next few issues EMT editor Adrian Horsewood will be reviewing a number of these box-sets.

Christopher Hogwood’s repertoire and breadth of expertise were so renowned that to label any one composer as a ‘specialism’ of his would do a disservice to several others. Nevertheless, J. S. Bach was one to whom Hogwood was devoted throughout his career, both as director and as soloist; this collection provides illuminations of both aspects.

Contained within this set are all of Bach’s major works for orchestra - the six Brandenburg concertos and the Orchestral Suites – the concertos for solo harpsichord and violin (of varying number), plus the French Suites and excerpts from numerous other works.

When the Brandenburg concertos first appeared in 1985 it was one of the earliest by a British period-instrument ensemble; even today the quality of the soloists is astonishing, most notably Catherine Mackintosh’s star turns in concertos 2 and 5. (The recording was also noteworthy for presenting the six concertos not in the forms in which they are most commonly known today, but as they were originally written during Bach’s time in Cöthen, some time before the Margrave of Brandenburg commissioned the composer to provide a set of instrumental works.)

In the concertos for harpsichord, Hogwood’s championing of the then relatively unheralded Christophe Rousset proved an inspired decision, while sterling service is also provided by older heads Davitt Moroney and Colin Tilney. The sound quality of the Orchestral Suites is a disappointment – the only real blip of this nature in the box – but it doesn’t entirely mar the virtues of the performances.

Hogwood steps firmly into the limelight in his two discs of the French suites, but his performances here seem slightly too laid-back and unengaged with the grandeur of these works, and aren’t helped by the acoustic of the Conservatoire de Musique in Paris.

Sadly, Hogwood recorded precious little of Bach’s vocal music for L’Oiseau- Lyre – represented by only two of the discs in this set – but one jewel of this collection is an album of solo cantatas and arias by Emma Kirkby, which includes the two secular wedding cantatas, ‘Weichet nut, betrübte Schatten’ and ‘O holder Tag, erwünschte Zeit’. Kirkby joins forces with the ever- delightful David Thomas for the ‘Peasant’ cantata and (along with tenor Rogers Covey-Crump) the ‘Coffee’ cantata.

The last six discs of this set contain music written by J.S. Bach’s sons Carl Philipp Emanuel, Johann Christian and Wilhelm Friedemann, and it’s especially pleasing to have these rarities readily available again. The AAM gives spirited readings of works by C. P. E. and J. C., but best of all is the chance to hear Hogwood as soloist in a number of sonatas from C. P. E. treatise, ‘Essay on the true art of playing keyboard instruments’; the 1761 Johann Adolph Hass clavichord sounds particularly splendid here.

Adrian Horsewood Read the full review on Agora Classica

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Early Music Today, 2015 - ©Rhinegold Publishing