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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Violin Concerto No.1 in A Minor BW 1041 [13:11]
Concerto for two Violins in D Minor BWV 1043 [13:42]*
Violin Concerto No.2 in E Major BWV 1042 [15:25]
Brandenburg Concerto No.5 in D Major BWV 1050 [21:20]#
Daniel Hope (violin), Marieke Blankestjin (violin)*
Jaime Martin (flute)#, Kristian Bezuidenhout (harpsichord and organ)
Chamber Orchestra of Europe.
rec. 31 October–2 November 2005, St Paul's Church, Deptford, London. DDD
WARNER CLASSICS 2564 62545-2 [63:37]
 

Daniel 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 (see review). This new Bach recording maintains that high standard.

Hope, 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. 

The 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 organ continuo.

The 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.

The 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.

The 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. 

Warner 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.

The 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. 

This 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.
 
Tim Perry
 

 



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