> JS Bach - An introduction to Brandenburg Concertos Nos. 4 & 5 [TB]: Classical CD Reviews- Oct 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
An introduction to:
Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 (1721)
Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 (1721)
Music performed by: Cologne Chamber Orchestra, directed by Helmut Müller-Brüll (from Naxos 8.554608)
Written and narrated by Jeremy Siepmann
Recorded 2002, London
NAXOS 8.558055-56 [2CDs: 152.00]


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Jeremy Siepmann has already completed several of these skilfully planned recordings of musical masterworks under the microscope, not unlike the popular BBC Radio 3 series 'Discovering Music'.

This pair of well filled CDs explores two of Bach's greatest works, the Fourth and Fifth Brandenburg Concertos. There is a brief introduction in which Siepmann places the Brandenburgs in context, quoting from various sources, before embarking upon quite a thorough motivic examination of the music. In these endeavours he is supported by a quite excellent accompanying booklet, which is thorough, well organised and clearly planned. However, some pretty fundamental material is either omitted or extremely difficult to locate, which amounts to the same thing. There is precious little material about the performers or the performances - and complete performances are involved - and the musicians deserve more acknowledgement than this.

Siepmann knows his way around the music and he understands its context. These things are not to be taken for granted, nor are they easily achieved. He is also an able narrator, even if his style seems occasionally to be mannered. The text of the descriptions is included, but it is disappointing that bar and cue numbers for those with scores have not been included alongside in the margin of the booklet notes. For without these references the points of analysis tend to fall over one another. It is rather like attending an evening class adult education lecture, but without the flexibility of a lecturer responding to his audience: a bit like a comedy show without the jokes, to put it crudely. Given the attention to detail in so much of the production, the lack of reference to the score is disappointing. Not everyone will want to go in this direction, but why not offer the opportunity.

The analysis is accurate and fluently delivered, and there is never a doubt that the salient features of the music are being discussed. But sometimes, particularly in the first movement of No. 4, the analytical points fall over one another and the impact is lost.

The performances are reliable enough, even if the Cologne Ensemble have not established themselves as leaders in the field - nor are they likely to do so. There is no attempt at uncovering the niceties of authentic performance, since it is assumed that the music will be always as it is heard on these discs. But overall the strengths outweigh the weaknesses. Although these discs are unlikely to become regular listening, they are well worth hearing for the musical secrets that they uncover.

Terry Barfoot

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