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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Brandenburg Concerto No 1 in F, BWV1046
Brandenburg Concerto No 2 in F, BWV1047
Brandenburg Concerto No 3 in G, BWV1048
Brandenburg Concerto No 4 in G, BWV1049
Brandenburg Concerto No 5 in D, BWV1050
Brandenburg Concerto No 6 in B flat, BWV1051
Tafelmusic, directed by Jeanne Lamon
Date and location of recording not specified
SONY CLASSICAL THETA SM2K89985
[2CDs: 42.03+51.24]
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Listening to the second of the six Brandenburg Concertos in these reissued performances by Tafelmusic gives the overall flavour of this interesting set. The two outer movements are taken at tempi that are rapid in the modern way Ė consistently one or two metronome points above Benjamin Brittenís interesting versions from 1968 Ė but always comfortable and logical, with no extreme positions taken and the playing never seeming rushed. Phrasing in slow movements is natural and affectionate, where tempi again are carefully chosen to allow the music to move on but without hurrying. The playing of the four soloists is first-class, technically secure without drawing attention to itself, and the recording is excellent. One could end there and recommend this set as an excellent opportunity to acquire all six Brandenburgs at a knockdown price, and this is, indeed, my view. Yet there are two aspects to these performances which trouble this listener, at least. First of all, and compared to other readings, the playing is sometimes a little lacking in charm. I think this is mainly a matter of accentuation which can seem relentless, even heavy at times; and whilst Iím not advocating full bow strokes in the romantic manner, I do find the playing too staccato too much of the time, and with too little variety within the staccato which results in playing which lacks affection. I also find a certain rigidity of pulse, especially in the faster movements, though this is all part of an overall view of the music to which Iím not totally attuned. The other problem is that although we might admire playing which doesnít seek to draw attention to itself, preferring to let the music speak directly to the listener, there does seem to be a lack of personality in the playing here, giving a sort of greyness for all its technical accomplishment. I should state that neither of these worries troubled an acquaintance who listened, as it were, blind. Nor was I so bothered by them when I abandoned the idea of listening straight through the discs in favour of one concerto at a time. All the same, even if Brittenís view of these pieces is not the one we would feel happy with nowadays, there is never any doubt that a strong musical personality is at work there, which is also the case with Trevor Pinnock (DG) and Jordi Savall (Astrée). If you like your Bach robust and businesslike these performances by Tafelmusik should certainly suit you, and they are certainly very cheap, but I think you can find more character elsewhere.

The front and back covers of the booklet accompanying this issue carry a lovely photograph of a castle with an island in the middle of a lake. Itís well-nigh impossible to be sure of any link between this and the programme, but more important, when you open the booklet, although you find the usual track listing and an interesting article (in English only) by Julian Haylock, there is no information at all about the performers nor about the circumstances of the recording. This is a pity, since despite the slight reservations I mention above the performances are excellent, and in the very extensive company of all the different period music groups, Tafelmusik are not the best known so it would have been welcome to have some information about them. More serious still is the lack of any information about the soloists. They are outstanding, and it seems to me criminal not to identify them. The excellent violin soloist is presumably the director herself, Jeanne Lamon, but the harpsichord playing is first rate throughout, and particularly in the long solo in the Fifth Concertoís first movement. And the stratospheric trumpet playing in the Second Concerto is as brilliant as it is self-effacing. We ought to know who these players are.

William Hedley

We have information that the harpsichordist was Charlotte Nediger


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