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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Concerto for violin, strings and continuo in E, BWV 1042 [16:27]
Concerto for 2 violins, strings and continuo in d, BWV 1043 [14:18]
Concerto for violin, strings and continuo in a, BWV 1041 [13:30]
Concerto for oboe, violin, strings and continuo in c, BWV 1060 [13:06]
Hilary Hahn (vn); Margaret Batjer (vn II); Allan Vogel (oboe)
Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra/Jeffrey Kahane
Rec. Los Angeles, The Colburn School of Performing Arts, Herbert Zipper Concert Hall, October 2002 (BWV 1042, 1043); January 2003 (BWV 1041, 1060). DDD
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 474 199-2 [57:39]

 

These concerti by Bach surely need no introduction. This is true except perhaps for BWV 1060 (the final concerto on this disc, for oboe, violin, strings and continuo) which stands ambiguously. Its only material evidence is a harpsichord and orchestral version – and such versions exist for all of Bach’s solo and duo concerti compositions. In the 1920s, the musicologist Max Seiffert came to the conclusion that the concerto was intended for oboe and violin, hence the performance we have on this recording.

Although Bach was a less prolific concerto composer than his successful contemporaries – Vivaldi, Scarlatti and Albinoni, to name a few – his achievements in this genre set him above and beyond the rest. He inherited the three-movement Italian concerto ritornello form but expanded it both physically and intellectually to produce an unprecedented musical depth and brilliance.

Listen to this CD and the technically difficult aspect of these concerti will not be lost on you. I don’t believe I have ever heard a faster recording – the momentous speed is positively irritating. Congratulations to Hahn for racing through the music with such ease and obvious skill, but a more thoughtful and composed performance would have been far more impressive.

The spirit of this wonderfully rich music that covers the gamut of emotions from the tender to the ecstatic is sacrificed to Hahn’s arrogant impulse to race. And to such an extent that when the music paces itself a little, when approaching cadences for instance, the gesture seems contrived and out of character. [i.e. track 1/4:30; track 2/2:42 and 3:23]

It will come as no surprise that the slow movements are also performed too fast. Over and above this problem is Hahn’s very small and nervous vibrato that doesn’t sit so comfortably with the intensely meditative conceptions. Where is the pathos? Where is the affection? Again, the potential for real depth is left untouched.

The double violin concerto in d minor, BWV 1043, goes by so quickly that there is barely enough time to reflect on the instrumental interrelations with their melodic exchanges and dynamic conversations.

What redeems this recording is the final concerto – and all thanks to an exciting performance by the oboist, Allan Vogel. Although the piece is not entirely saved, Vogel’s delightfully poised inflections and delicate intonation go a long way to mitigating the frantic circumstances.

The general execution is not bad – it is merely misdirected. The performances are confident but there is no forgiving the interpretation that cries immaturity. Sadly, Hahn is all technique and little thought. Her joy-ride makes a mockery of Bach.

Aline Nassif


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