This eclectic performance brings together a wide variety
of music from three different composers. Il Giardino Armonico is a very
interesting ensemble with a great deal of energy and spirit, and their
Bach recordings, along with those of other composers, have shown them
to be one of the boldest ensembles playing baroque music in recent years.
This performance, recorded in the attractive Musikverein in Vienna,
combines the elder Bach, his most famous son, Carl Philipp Emanuel,
and Antonio Vivaldi in an evening of attractive music.
One of the unique elements of this performance is the
use of fortepianos for Bach’s keyboard concertos. This instrument, which
Bach undoubtedly knew, and probably owned, is rarely played with his
music, yet the sound it offers is far more interesting than a modern
piano. In the C major concerto, the fortepianos give a unique charm
to the music and combine well with the small ensemble. But the Labeque
sisters sound hesitant and almost unfamiliar with the music, and it
lacks the vigour one hopes to hear. Nevertheless, the sound is so enjoyable
that one can ignore the lack of passion and focus on the beauty of the
music and the excellent energy coming from the ensemble, especially
in the final Fuga Vivace of this work.
Even bolder, and somewhat strange, is the choice of
adding a harpsichord to the D minor concerto. This gives two fortepianos
and one harpsichord, and the balance among the instruments is way off.
This is a shame, because Ottavio Dantone is an excellent harpsichordist
(who recently recorded a brilliant Well-Tempered Clavier), and his contribution
is all but drowned out. The Labeque sisters both seem much more impassioned
in this work though, and give it far more energy than the first concerto.
Perhaps they feel more at home with the virtuoso runs along the keyboard
that this concerto holds; they clearly seem to be getting into the music.
The final movement of this concerto is full of energy, and one wishes
this buzz had been present throughout the performance.
The symphony by CPE Bach gives the ensemble a chance
to show off its talents as a group. This work sounds excellent with
such a small group playing it - Il Giardino Armonico is at its largest
in this performance with 13 musicians. The lively opining and closing
movements are played almost in an Italianate style, with a great deal
of energy and changes of dynamics. The slower middle movement is a subtle
painting of themes that rebound across the ensemble with delicate nuances.
Violinist Enrico Onofri, who plays with the same kind
of energy as his compatriot Fabio Biondi, brilliantly performs the Vivaldi
violin concerto. This is one of those Vivaldi concertos clearly written
for a virtuoso, with rapid arpeggios, and runs all the way along the
neck of the violin, including, in the opening allegro, a section at
the very highest possible notes. This is an excellent performance, and
shows a virtuoso violinist in complete control of very demanding music.
There is an additional documentary called Saving
of the Bach’s Manuscripts (come on, that title could have been better
translated) about how some of Bach’s manuscripts are being restored
in Germany. This brief documentary is interesting, though short.
While this DVD is entitled Italian Bach, its most interesting
work is certainly the Vivaldi. The Bach is fine, but lacks the energy
and passion that is needed. All in all, this is an enjoyable performance,
in spite of its drawbacks, and represents a fine evening of music.