Hope is a fascinating musician. Currently the violinist of the
Beaux Arts Trio - he was the venerable ensemble’s youngest ever
member when he joined in 2002 - he is steadily building a formidable
career as a soloist. He has just won his third successive ECHO
prize, Germany’s highest classical music accolade, and has a
series of serious-minded genre-crossing projects under his belt.
He is dedicated to contemporary and little known music and pops
up in the strangest and most unexpected places, most recently
on a single track of Naxos’ new disc of Rebecca Clarke’s music
for viola (8.557934 - yet to be reviewed). He is also slowly
racking up an impressive list of prize-winning solo albums,
include a brace of Shostakovich concertos to rank with the best
This new Bach recording maintains that high standard.
directing the Chamber Orchestra of Europe from his violin, delivers
breezy, bracing Bach. Though modern instruments are used, textures
are light and transparent, vibrato scorned, and a multi-faceted
continuo ever-present. The ornamentation employed by Hope and
his fellow soloists borders on the extravagant.
E Major violin concerto is given a wonderful performance which
will probably be decisive in compelling collectors to purchase
this disc. It receives the best performance of any of the concertos
on the disc. Tempi are perfect and Hope’s solo playing is finely
nuanced. Added to these recommendations is a textual one. Hope
and Bezuidenhout explain in a note in
the booklet that they were not content to rely on the old and
familiar version of this concerto, which exists as a copy only
as Bach’s original manuscript has been lost. Instead, they looked
to Bach’s original autograph of BWV 1054, his transcription
of this concerto in D Major for harpsichord and strings. Their
performance of the E Major concerto incorporates many of the
stylistic changes and embellishments from Bach’s transcription
and makes for fascinating listening. The other distinguishing
feature of this performance, which is common to the others on
this disc also, is the use of a varied continuo. Lute, theorbo
and bowed bass augment the harpsichord and, in the slow movements
of the E Major and the D Minor, Bezuidenhout provides a light
A Minor concerto appears in its familiar version - with embellishments
from Hope - and shares many of the virtues of the E Major, though
I find it marginally less satisfying.
D Minor also receives a spirited performance, at the heart of
which is a flowing, and tenderly phrased largo second movement,
underpinned by that delicate organ continuo. Hope and Blankestjin
achieve a moving dialogue here. The first and third movements,
though fleet and fresh, are a little too breathless to allow
for a true feel of conversation between the two soloists. Nevertheless,
this is sparkling playing.
usual filler for a disc of Bach's violin concertos is the concerto
for violin and oboe BWV 1060. For a change, Hope and co opt
for the fifth of Bach's six Brandenburg Concertos. It is a generous
choice. As well as offering more minutes of music, Hope first
shares the spotlight with flautist Martin before yielding it
to harpsichordist Bezuidenhout in what
is arguably the first concerto written for a keyboard instrument.
Certainly Angela Hewitt and Murray Perahia accord the piece
that status, having recorded it alongside Bach’s other concertos
for the keyboard. Bezuidenhout certainly does not disappoint.
His harpsichord has a lovely clean action and a clear bell-like
sound and his performance of the not-so-continuo part is confident
but tasteful. Hope and Martin make sensitive contributions to
this performance, which again features fleet first and last
movements and a lovely central slow movement.
Classics has done some great work in harnessing new technology
to add value to their CDs and encourage purchase rather than
theft of their music. Where Sony-BMG slap FBI logos and threats
of prosecution all over their discs, Warner offer something
extra to those who buy the CD, which downloaders and file sharers
are denied. Their new releases, like a selection of EMI’s, come
with access to an exclusive website. The site for this CD includes
a chance to enter a competition - before you get too excited,
the competition has already closed - and a video of Hope playing
an excerpt of the chaconne from Bach’s second partita for solo
violin. The idea is a good one, but the execution leaves something
to be desired. The whole chaconne would have made a more substantial
bonus, and some illustration of the differences between the
standard version of the E Major concerto and the modified
score recorded by Hope would also have been nice. This is clearly
a strategy in development, and I am hopeful that Warner will
find the right balance.
recorded sound for this CD issue leaves little to be desired,
though the flute is balanced slightly forward of the violin
and harpsichord in the fifth Brandenburg Concerto. The liner
notes, though sadly lacking in biographical information on the
performers, are clear and concise.
album has much to recommend it. The general ensemble is excellent,
the solo playing thoughtful and the overall listening experience
pleasurable. These performances do not quite unseat my personal
favourites. I remain loyal to David Oistrakh in the violin concertos
- joined by his son Igor in a moving account of the double concerto
- on Deutsche Grammophon’s Originals imprint. As for the fifth
of the Brandenburgs, I prefer Hewitt’s recent account with the
Australian Chamber Orchestra (see review).
But these preferences of mine are more about style and performing
tradition than quality. Hope’s disc is an excellent example of
its type and for those seeking recordings of Bach's concertos
for violin played with period sensibility on modern instruments,
the choice is now between this disc and Kennedy’s recent one on
EMI (see review).
There is very little to choose between the two, though I would
suggest that Hope, with his thoughtfulness and his sparkling E
Major concerto, has the edge.