> BACH Orchestral Suites and Concertos Menuhin 7CDs [KM]: Classical Reviews- February 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Orchestral Suites - Concertos (7 CDs)

CD1 [67.07]
Orchestral Suites Nos.1–3 BWV 1066–8
CD2 [74.38]
Orchestral Suite No.4 BWV 1069,
Musical Offering BWV 1079
CD3 [69.52]
Brandenburg Concertos Nos.1–4 BWV 1046–9
CD4 [64.45]
Brandenburg Concertos Nos.5 & 6 BWV 1050–51,
Concerto for Flute, Violin & Harpsichord BWV 1044
CD5 [75.04]
4 Harpsichord Concertos BWV 1052–5
CD6 [67.29]
Harpsichord Concerto BWV 1056,
2 Concertos for 2 Harpsichords BWV 1060–61,
Concerto for 3 Harpsichords BWV 1064,
Concerto for 4 Harpsichords BVW 1065
CD7 [66.50]
2 Violin Concertos BWV 1041–2
Concerto for 2 Violins BWV 1043
Concerto for Violin & Oboe BWV 1060
Bath Festival Orchestra
Menuhin Festival Orchestra
Pro Arte Orchestra
Yehudi Menuhin/Boris Ord directors
Rec: 1956 to 1973, various locations.
EMI CZS 5 74439 2 [approx. 8 hours.]



Crotchet £19.99   AmazonUK £17.99  AmazonUS

Yehudi Menuhin’s recordings of Bach’s orchestral music made in the 1950s stand out as a major step along the road of Bach performance practice. Eschewing the heavy orchestral arrangements of the previous decades, Menuhin performs these works with much smaller forces than the conductors who preceded him. Nevertheless stylistically these are far from what today is called historically informed performances (HIP). Modern instruments, slow tempi, lots of vibrato and lush arrangements are all the hallmarks of a more "classical" approach, but Menuhin’s view of these works is more musically-oriented than most, focusing on the resulting sounds rather than any abstract theoretical desire to perform these works in a specific way.

There is a certain unity of tone in these performances that few conductors of this period managed to achieve. Menuhin manages to leave his mark on these works, with subtle orchestral effects, brilliant playing of the soloists, and a true understanding of the feelings that lie behind Bach’s music. While the Orchestral Suites are played slowly - very slowly, by today’s standards - they create a feeling of plenitude and joy that is not heard in many recordings of these works. Listening to them attentively, with headphones, one can hear the many subtle effects that Menuhin instilled into these performances, with instrumental groups changing their focus as the music progresses. In spite of the tempi, these are very engaging performances, and the lush, legato sound of the strings does not sound archaic essentially because of the size of the forces.

Menuhin’s recording of the Musical Offering has the same characteristics, but this work is for even smaller forces and he, fortunately, does not try to impose a modern orchestral structure on the work. Again, the legato and vibrato of the strings gives it a slightly anachronistic sound, but this sound is not without charm. Unfortunately, the recording of the harpsichord in this work - as in many of the pieces in this set - is poor; in the opening Ricercar, the harpsichord seems to phase in and out, and the higher end of its sound is often muffled, giving it a distant, incomplete tone. The sound is also unequal throughout the piece, with some parts sounding much better than others.

The Brandenburg Concertos feature much more sprightly tempi than the Orchestral Suites and very attractive orchestration with relatively small forces; about as large as that commonly used for HIP recordings today. The soloists all sound fine, with the exception of the harpsichord, which is a bit low in the mix, at times. The interplay of the musicians creates a delightful atmosphere, and this recording rivals many of the best HIP recordings in vigor and energy.

The Harpsichord Concertos, a total of nine, for one, two, three and four harpsichords, are played with the same elan and bright power. These feature such prestigious soloists as George Malcolm, Simon Preston and Thurston Dart. Unfortunately, the sound is not very flattering for the keyboard instruments - they are very soft, and do not make it through the music when the entire orchestra is playing. When they are playing solo passages, their low volume means that listening to this disc one is confronted with a wide dynamic range: to hear the harpsichords, volume must be turned up, but, in this case, the orchestra then sounds quite loud.

Menuhin’s violin concertos are attractive, but they don’t knock me out or have the same charm as the rest of the set. In spite of his brilliant playing, they lack the overall energy that is heard in the other works.

This is a fine set of recordings that show how Bach can be beautiful with a classic, yet restrained approach. Menuhin’s relatively small forces and exuberant energy make most of these works essential recordings for Bach-lovers. Only the violin concertos lack the same drive, but, given the super-budget price of this set, this is not an issue. Grab it up - you won’t regret it.

Kirk McElhearn

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