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Willem Mengelberg – Bach
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)

Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B minor BWV 1067
Recorded 17 April 1939
Orchestral Suite No.3 BWV 1068 – Air only
Recorded April 1942
Double Violin Concerto in D minor BWV 1043
Louis Zimmerman and Ferdinand Helman (violins), recorded 21 December 1937
Keyboard Concerto in F minor BWV 1056
Agi Jambor (piano), recorded 17 April 1939
Wedding Cantata; Weichet nur, betrübt Schatten BWV 202
To van der Sluys (soprano) recorded 17 April 1939
Concertgebouw Orchestra/Willem Mengelberg
ARCHIPEL ARPCD 0258 [73.27]



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Much if not all this material will be very familiar to Mengelberg admirers. Most of the music derives from a performance given on 17th April 1939 and the well-chosen additions give us the commercial Columbia recording of the Double Concerto and the wartime Air from the Third Orchestral Suite. The virtues (and otherwise) of Mengelberg’s approach to Bach have been well rehearsed down the decades but I think this issue may do something to mislead the innocent ear of the conductor’s supposed marmoreal and cavernous approach.

Of course Mengelberg’s was an idiosyncratic and weighty approach but comparing this transfer of the Second Suite with that on Michael G Thomas’s Mengelberg Edition series one notices immediately that there is a thick and saturated bass line in the Archipel which is artificial and unattractive and has a real lack of clarity. Thomas’s transfers are hardly ideal – one can hear the stylus hitting the groove and minimal restoration has been carried out with a number of ticks and pops part of the aural tapestry – but there is much more detail and definition and Mengelberg’s sonority emerges as sounding entirely different. From the same concert the Keyboard Concerto with Agi Jambor sounds better and roughly comparable to the Thomas transfer though perhaps not quite open and aerated enough. The 1942 Air has been sourced from better copies and sounds well. The Double Concerto features two of the prestigious orchestral leaders of the Concertgebouw in harmonious consort under their conductor. This has been released by Pearl in recent years in a miscellaneous programme that also includes Schubert’s Unfinished, Eine Kleine Nachtmusik and excerpts from the Damnation of Faust amongst others - and Biddulph should soon be re-releasing their transfer as well. The Wedding Cantata showcases the very capable and expressive (fine diminuendi) Dutch soprano To van der Sluys. The sound is not as saturated as in the Second Suite but it should be lightened and properly equalized.

Given the relative cheapness of Archipel’s discs one could seek out this disc for the Double Concerto and the freely expressive portamenti of its leader-soloists; but one could also seek out the Pearl. Thomas’s transfers are superior to Archipel’s in the instances I have sampled but the Mengelberg Edition has withered since Thomas’s death. Collectors should otherwise treat this one with a fair degree of caution.

Jonathan Woolf

 



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