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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Brandenburg Concertos
Concerto no. 4 in G major BWV 1049, Concerto no 5 in D major BWV 1050, Concerto in A minor BWV 1044, Concerto in F major BWV 1057.
Cologne Chamber Orchestra, Helmut Müller-Bruhl
Naxos 8.554608 [68:28]


This disc represents Volume 7 of Bach's complete orchestral works in the Naxos Originals-Transcriptions-Reconstructions series. The useful accompanying notes by Peter Wollny make reference to Bach's regular tendency to arrange earlier works in different instrumentations and we here have the opportunity to compare directly the Brandenburg Concerto no. 4 in G major with its later transcription in the form of the Concerto in F major BWV 1057 for two recorders, harpsichord strings and basso continuo.

The soloists all appear to be relatively young (three at least being born in the 1970s) and it is good to see that they are credited with brief biographies in the booklet which is not always the case with Naxos artists.

The disc opens with the fourth of the Brandenburgs in a spirited performance with the outer two movements being perhaps the most successful and demonstrating some impressively taut playing from the recorder and violin soloists. For my taste the central Andante could have been played with a little more imagination in terms of contrast and dynamics but overall the ensemble is good and the performance has much to enjoy. I would recommend that listeners skip from here, as I did, to listen to the work's transcription, which is the final work on the disc. This may be a transcription but the genius of the composer is immediately apparent. For the main part the string and recorder parts remain unchanged but the harpsichord part, idiomatically created from the original violin part, coupled with the shift down a tone in key, give the concerto a different character. Once again there is a lively sense of rhythm in the opening movement and, in this performance at least, I felt that the central andante had a greater feeling of poise than the earlier version with violin.

The Brandenburg No. 5 comes off well with a particularly poignant central Affetuoso. The stunning harpsichord cadenza in the opening movement feels a little heavy handed in places but overall a creditable performance.

Finally then the Concerto in A minor, BWV 1044, more commonly known as the "Triple" Concerto. Scored for a solo combination of flute, violin and harpsichord this is an extraordinary work. Again, Bach has transcribed earlier material, this time using solo organ or harpsichord works and constructing completely new solo and orchestral parts around them. It here receives a committed performance, full in texture, with the soloists, in particular, Robert Hill on harpsichord, acquitting themselves well. The final Alla breve is worthy of particular praise.

I would not expect this disc to prompt dedicated Bach enthusiasts to discard their treasured recordings of these works. However, it has much to commend in the spirit of the playing which conveys a refreshing sense of youthfulness and vigour. The recording is a co-production with Deutschland Radio of Cologne and the engineers have faithfully captured a full sound which undoubtedly adds to the disc.

Christopher Thomas



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