Tafelmusik is a Canadian ensemble that plays baroque music on period instruments. They have recorded Bach's Brandenburg Concertos, two cantatas, motets, as well as the present recording of the violin concertos. They are quite popular in Canada, apparently, having won several prizes, and have recorded extensively since 1982.
Tafelmusik's recording of the Brandenburg concertos, recorded two years before this disc, disappointed me. I felt that the tempi were often too stodgy, and the sound sometimes suffered. This recording, however, shows a completely different tone than the Brandenburgs - the tempi here are more energetic in the fast movements, and the overall sound is much better balanced. Of course, these are concertos for one or several solo violins, and this is much easier to record than the horns and winds in the Brandenburgs.
Each of these concertos follows the Vivaldian concerto form of three movements, fast-slow-fast. Bach shows his mastery of this form, here, in a dazzling display of virtuosity.
The Concerto for Violin, Strings and Basso continuo in A minor features a solo violin and strings, and, in the fast movement, the strings play much more than a simple accompaniment. Jeanne Lamon's solo playing here is excellent, and the balance between her violin and the orchestra is fine. This is a small group - only 12 musicians, except in the D major concerto, where there is one additional violinist - and the sound is quite intimate. The Andante of this concerto is stately, and its tempo and sound provides an excellent contrast with the rapid first movement. It is also much longer, allowing the soloist to express feelings of melancholy in the solo-tutti interplay of the movement. The final Allegro assai is livelier, and ends this concerto energetically.
The Concerto for Two Violins, Strings and Basso continuo in D minor, BWV 1043, also called the Double Concerto, features two solo violins. This immensely popular work is a staple of the standard orchestral repertoire. The orchestra, in this concerto, plays more of a simple accompaniment, allowing the two violins to play their bright and joyous parts against a limited background. The sound here is fine, and the tempi chosen fit the music very well. Both violinists are very good, and their instruments sound excellent.
The Concerto for Violin, Strings and Basso continuo in E major, BWV 1042, another popular piece, is similar in structure to the first concerto on this recording. The highly Italianate sound of this concerto makes it one of the gems of Bach's orchestral music. The slow movement of this concerto is much slower than the others; it is a highly meditative piece that recalls some of the arias in Bach's cantatas. Unfortunately, Lamon is not quite expressive enough here. This movement sounds a bit cold, much less emotional than it should.
The Concerto for Three Violins, Strings and Basso continuo in D minor, BWV 1064r is a reworking of Bach's Concerto for Three Harpsichords, BWV 1064. Many musicologists feel that the harpsichord concerto was actually a reworking of a lost violin concerto, and this work has been "reconstructed" many times. It is a beautiful work, whether played with harpsichords or violins, one of great joy and delight. The performance here is very good, although the sound suffers a bit - it is difficult to distinguish the different soloists. The slow adagio is probably the best part of this concerto, with a beautiful interplay between the three violins.
This is a very good recording of Bach's violin concertos. While I had not appreciated Tafelmusik's tempi and sound in their earlier recording of the Brandenburg Concertos, these problems are less apparent here. While there are still some weak points, this is a recording worth listening to.