> Italian Bach in Vienna DVD [KM]: Classical Reviews- May2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Il Giardino Armonico plays Bach in Vienna

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)

Concerto for two keyboards in C major, BWV 1061 *
Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714-1788)

Symphony in G major, Wq 182-1
Antonio VIVALDI (1675-1741)

Violin Concerto in D minor "per Pisendel", RV 242 ***
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)

Concerto for three keyboards in D minor, BWV 1063 *, **
Katia and Maria Labeque, fortepianos *
Ottavio Dantone, harpsichord **
Enrico Onofri, violin ***
Il Giardino Armonico, Giovanni Antonini
Recorded Musikverein, Vienna, 24 April 2000.
TDK DV-BACON [73 min.]

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.
Kirk McElhearn


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