Notes and Editorial Reviews
Jeanne Lamon, dir; Tafelmusik Baroque O (period instruments)
TAFELMUSIK 1004 (2 CDs: 93:27)
One of the most pressing concerns of many established early-music groups is that, whatever their talent and reputation, their releases are often at the mercy of recording companies. Moreover, the economic situation facing the industry seems to favor smaller labels with lower costs, as well as those closely associated either with live performances (Nuova Era comes to mind) or
radio/television stations (CPO and West German Radio, for example). Many well-established groups must thus face the inevitable problem of continually revisiting old warhorses in order that they may on occasion be able to explore some of the more exciting and esoteric repertory. The exception to this rule, of course, is Klaus Heymann’s expanding empire, thanks to his philosophy that we have an increasing repertory of music of all kinds available, not only on disc but also accessible online. The reason I begin this review thus is to note that one of these well-known period-instrument ensembles, Tafelmusik, has chosen to take charge of its own destiny and issue (or reissue) its performances on its own label. It is a bold undertaking, and from the preliminary catalog of some dozen recordings, I would say that it is a great time to reacquaint oneself with the group’s always impressive repertory under its leader, Jeanne Lamon, as well as cellist Anner Bylsma and conductor Bruno Weil.
This recording was originally issued in 1994 under the Sony Classics label and at that time it received excellent reviews for a performance that was precise, intimate, well nuanced, and justifiably acclaimed. It is now almost two decades later, and the rerelease of the disc provides an opportunity to see if it has stood the test of time, especially in the light of dozens of recordings of these iconic concerti grossi dedicated to the Margrave of Brandenburg in 1721. Never mind that these were disparate works all written at various times, possibly as early as 1713 in Weimar and throughout Bach’s service to Prince Leopold of Cöthen, 1717–24. Ever since the dedication they have been deemed a definitive set, the epitome of the genre, famed as much for their structure and setting as well as their use of a varied concertino. Having plowed my way through several sets, including Trevor Pinnock and Christopher Hogwood (both of about the same vintage and earlier), I am still delighted at Tafelmusik’s renditions. To be sure, they have brought in a couple of ringers, such as Crispin Steele-Perkins on trumpet for the tortuous Second Concerto or Marion Verbruggen on recorder for the Fourth. But these blend so well with the ensemble that one notices only Bach’s kaleidoscopic textures. This is pretty much as he probably wished it. Even the somewhat raucous horns of Ab Koster and Derek Conrod emerge and submerge in the First Concerto, providing both momentary transparent solos and the background hunting fanfares that sound like horns echoing in the distance. The beautiful textures of the two violas in the Sixth Concerto provide a warm and, in the final movement, nicely balanced blend. In short, for my money, this recording is easily the one I would recommend, for all of the reasons the critics liked it years ago. It is good to see it rereleased, and if you do not have a
set in your collection, you would do well to purchase this one. There may be differing opinions (some no doubt strong) with so many other choices out there, but I like this more cohesive ensemble blend. As noted, it is good to have it available again and if Tafelmusik continues on this same path I am convinced it will substantiate its decision to pursue its own label.
FANFARE: Bertil van Boer
Works on This Recording
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