Notes and Editorial Reviews
If you didn't read the notes to this recording beforehand, after a few seconds of listening to the Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 you might wonder what happened to the orchestra--the trumpet is accompanied only by violin, oboe, recorder, cello, and harpsichord. Likewise, the Concerto No. 5's famous harpsichord solo part is joined by a string trio, violin soloist, and flute. And the longer you listen, the more little details you notice that differ--usually only slightly--from the familiar works we hear today. In fact, this program is not some novelty Bach-performance contrivance but rather these performances are based on alternate, existing versions of the concertos we know so well. Concertos Nos. 2 and 5 are earlier incarnations of the works
Bach dedicated to the Margrave of Brandenburg in 1721; this version of Concerto No. 4 is a later adaptation that employs harpsichord solo instead of violin--a version that, unlike the other two, is commonly heard today (there are dozens of recordings) as Concerto in F major BWV 1057 for harpsichord and two recorders.
Although these scores don't prescribe the use of minimal instrumental forces, the performers elected this approach for purely artistic reasons, to offer a different perspective, with increased clarity and balance--while not making any claim to greater "authenticity or legitimacy".
Whatever the reason, once you get used to the idea that you're listening to these unique masterpieces as true chamber works you appreciate the leaner textures for the way they bring each contrapuntal line into sharper focus and allow each instrumental timbre more presence. In fact, hearing those timbres so clearly and individually defined confirms the case for employing colorful, characterful period instruments in this music rather than opting for the full-bodied yet inevitably homogenized sound of a similar modern-instrument ensemble. The result is really very enjoyable and every bit as engaging as the fuller orchestra versions we know and love. Of course it helps that the players are so competent and enthusiastically engaged, so collectively tight and vibrant of tone. I love the shorter but harmonically "off-the-hook" harpsichord cadenza in Concerto No. 5, as well as the effect that fewer instruments make on the overall balance: for once harpsichord and oboe, violin and trumpet are actually relative equals.
One complaint could be the disc's very short--44:39--timing. Yes, there are always financial and logistical concerns with any project like this, but there would have been plenty of room here to include an early version of Concerto No. 1 (Sinfonia BWV 1046a), and/or Bach's 1729 rescoring of part of Concerto No. 3. Nevertheless, this is a most entertaining and rewarding program that no Bach enthusiast (aren't we all?) should miss.
--David Vernier, ClassicsToday.com
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