Notes and Editorial Reviews
This is a hybrid Super Audio CD playable on both regular and Super Audio CD players.
Long neglected on a library shelf in Brandenburg Castle, these six 'Concertos for several instruments' have since become some of the best-known works in the classical repertoire for their musical inventiveness and their games of mathematical symmetry. Richard Egarr and the Academy of Ancient Music have endeavoured to return to the original 'chamber' conception of the works, with one player per part.
R E V I E W:
Richard Egarr (hpd, cond); Academy of Ancient Music (period instruments)
HARMONIA MUNDI 807461 (2 Hybrid multichannel SACDs: 96:20)
Recordings of Bach’s
are ample; deducting for duplications and compilations, arkivmusic.com lists about 50 available complete versions. Conveniently, this latest HIP addition on Harmonia Mundi with the Academy of Ancient Music under its new music director, Richard Egarr, meets plenty of competition. On a twofer of the same label, we find the Academy for Ancient Music Berlin and Egarr’s predecessor Christopher Hogwood recorded the
s not even 20 years ago (still available on L’Oiseau-Lyre).
For direct comparison, the two most recent major period-instrument releases—Alessandrini/Concerto Italiano on Naïve and Pinnock/Brandenburg Ensemble on Avie (reviewed in 31: 4)—serve nicely to elucidate contrast and similarities. Egarr and Alessandrini use one player per part; Pinnock mostly uses a small ensemble, switching to one-to-a-part only for the Fifth Concerto.
Egarr presents the concertos in order, and the First starts boldly with a dark, round, slightly stuffed horn sound, perfectly executed by the natural horn-players who barge in with the excitement of an ensuing hunt. The darkness has a reason: Egarr chose the French Baroque pitch for this recording, which, at A = 392, is a semitone lower than the standard Baroque pitch of A = 415.
Egarr’s swift Adagio (3:09, Alessandrini 4:02, Pinnock 3:39) doesn’t indulge his oboists and the violino piccolo very much, but establishes a pleasantly fresh pulse. The ritardando in the third movement (Allegro) of the First Concerto, just before the music jolts back out of this brief contemplative point, is massive. Although Alessandrini beats him by stretching it to 25 from 20 seconds and coming to a complete halt, Egarr makes it sound even more audacious by starting it a few notes earlier, keeping the music going throughout, and then bolts on even more explosively than Concerto Italiano does.
The Menuet is a nervously, yet steadily chugging little thing in Alessandrini’s hands, a bright and graceful dancing movement with Pinnock. With Egarr it has a contemplative, incredibly sensuous flow. Put less positively: it’s a case of muffled lurching. Egarr has no time for any cadenza-improvising or movement-substituting between the two Adagio chords of the Third Concerto, stating in the accompanying notes that “Bach’s ‘Bar’ (the one containing these two chords) is perfect,” and citing compelling mathematical context in his support.
The Presto from the Fourth Concerto just purls along with gentle ease; Egarr’s finely spun harpsichord interjections make Pinnock sound comparatively earthbound. The flute vibrato in the opening Allegro of the Fifth Concerto is tasteful enough, not as overt as with Alessandrini and not as borderline sour as with Pinnock. The concluding Allegro could stand in for much of the general differences between these recordings: Egarr, buoyant, unobtrusive, with a soft flexibility to the ensemble’s tone; Alessandrini, explosive with a bit more edge; and Pinnock, in-between, rawer, occasionally just a little heavier, and the harpsichord more up front.
In Egarr’s recording, I particularly love the silken airiness of the Second Concerto’s Allegro and the—musicologically incorrect—use of theorbo basso continuo throughout and—most imaginatively—
of the harpsichord in the Adagio ma non tanto of the Sixth Concerto. To quote Egarr, the added continuo color was “a delicious luxury which [he] couldn’t forgo.”
From his previous recordings, I’ve never found Richard Egarr to be a man of extremes, and he performs these works with a well-judged moderation too. His Allegros are not quite so fast, his Adagios not overly slow, his accents lively but not spiked. His touch on the harpsichord is soft and ever deft. He doesn’t set out to shock or primarily excite, but to delight. This warm touch reminds me of Jordi Savall’s version with
Le Concert des Nations
more than any other HIP account I know.
The sound is excellent: rich and with lots of room to bloom—although on the soft side, further emphasizing the character of the interpretation. Voices are not as easily separable as in the Alessandrini recording, which offers more clarity. While the recording is SACD surround capable, I listened only in (SACD) stereo. The presentation is up to Harmonia Mundi’s usual high standards, the liner notes by Richard Egarr (in English, French, and German) eminently worth reading, and information on all the musicians and the instruments they use is given in well-chosen and readable fonts. Is this a must-have for anyone who already enjoys one or two HIP
s in their collection? Of course not. Will you want to add it, anyway? You bet.
FANFARE: Jens F. Laurson
Works on This Recording
Featured Sound Samples
Brandenburg Concerto no 2: III. Allegro assai
Brandenburg Concerto no 3: II. Allegro
Brandenburg Concerto no 6: II. Adagio ma non tanto
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