> JS Bach - Four Violin Concertos [JW]: Classical CD Reviews- July2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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J.S. BACH (1685-1750)
Violin Concertos BWV 1041 and BWV 1042
Double Concerto for Two Violins BWV 1043
Concerto for Violin and Oboe BWV 1060
Roberto Michelucci, violin
Felix Ayo, violin (BWV 1043)
Leo Driehuys, oboe (BWV 1060)
I Musici
Recorded 1958-1961
PHILIPS ELOQUENCE 456 554-2 [69’56]




I Musici recorded these concertos over a three-year period, recordings that are now over forty years old. Of the soloists it’s Felix Ayo who is probably the most famous but violinist Roberto Michelucci acquits himself very well in the bulk of the disc, in which solid tempos and superior technique bring their own rewards. The opening allegro of the E Major Concerto is slow, with discreet diminuendos but there is very occasionally a stolidity to the bass line that can impede the natural flow of the line. Nevertheless I Musici are commendable in the way they manage to bring out - but not flaunt - the harmonic implications of these works. Michelucci employs some very quick slides in the Adagio of the E Major and his trills are well taken if not of electric velocity. An expressive orchestral diminuendo before the violinist’s entry graces the concluding Allegro of the work but there is what sounds like a bad edit at 2’47 here. In the A Minor Concerto Michelucci is again calculatingly slow but never mechanically so and there is much to enjoy in the contrast between the solo violin and the deep, lean cellos and basses – the orchestral strings’ descent at 6’30 is both affecting and expressive in the Andante.

Michelucci is joined by Ayo for a pleasing performance of the Double Concerto. They take a predictably deliberate tempo and are careful to give full articulation to note values. Whereas at their speed the results can again sound somewhat sluggish there is a compensatory aristocracy of phrasing and address to the playing. The extreme diminuendo at 8’00, towards the end of the slow movement, is the apotheosis of their approach to these works, which are constantly illuminated by moments of plasticity of phrasing or interior drama – naturally much of this will be unattractive to the more anaemic listener but there are rewards in hearing the sometimes surprising angularities of Bach’s writing that become exposed in performances of this kind. Much harmonic and motivic detail is opened up and it’s intriguing to hear. I enjoyed the concerto for Violin and Oboe. It’s an affectionate but not affecting performance (unlike the almost contemporaneous Menuhin-Goossens recording which was both in profusion). The harpsichord continuo is audible – just – at a jog trot concluding Allegro. Altogether this is a pleasing conspectus of I Musici’s evolving approach to Bach playing at the dawn of the 1960s.

Jonathan Woolf


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