I admit it. I'm a pushover for Bach transcriptions. He is certainly our most transcribed composer, and with good reason; his works tend to sound wonderful no matter what container they are poured into. (Purists will disagree, but they also probably aren't reading this review.) Yoav Talmi, the talented Israeli conductor who has been the conductor of this CD's orchestra, Orchestre symphonique de Québec, since 1998, has put together a satisfying collection of Bach orchestral transcriptions by such disparate composers as Webern, Elgar, Holst, Stokowski, Respighi, Walton and Talmi himself. Each composer brings his own view to the project, from the plummy depths of Elgar's rich take on the Fantasy and Fugue in C Minor, BWV 537, to Respighi's many-hued orchestration of the big C Minor Passacaglia and Fugue, BWV 582, to Webern's chamber-sized orchestration of the Ricercata from 'The Musical Offering', BWV 1079, to Holst's fairy-light orchestration of the Jig Fugue in G, BWV 537. Of course, there is Stokowski's famous orchestration of the Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, BWV 565, played here with great clarity and élan. There is Talmi's skillful transcription for harpsichord and orchestra of the Italian Concerto, BWV 971 (with Alexander Weimann at the keyboard). I had not realized that Talmi was a composer, but this transcription suggests that he has real talent.
And finally, there is The Wise Virgins, the always welcome ballet suite -- gasp! a ballet from Bach music? -- arranged by William Walton. It contains bits from the cantatas: 'Was Gott tut ist wohlgetan', 'Herzlich tut mich verlangenen', the tenor aria 'Seht was die Liebe tut' from BWV 85, the chorale from 'Gelobet sei der Herr, mein Gott' BWV 129, and most famously, 'Sheep may safely graze' from BWV 208 (the latter with sensitive playing from the orchestra's principal winds).
All is played by the Quebec Symphony with marvelous feeling for the various styles involved and the sound is especially spacious and lifelike. This merits an easy recommendation.