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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685 - 1750)
Brandenburg Concertos Nos. 1-3
Consort of London/Robert Haydon Clark
Recorded: St. Johnís Smith Square, London, 1990


This disc was originally issued in 1990 on the now defunct Collins Classics label. Happily, many of the recordings from this label are now reappearing in other guises. Robert Haydon Clark was a pupil of Thurston Dart. Dart devoted quite a bit of his life to producing satisfactory solutions to some of the problems in these fascinating works and Clark has included some of Dartís ideas into these performances. The Consort of London is a modern instrument band and this has influence some of the decisions. Clark substitutes a French horn for Bachís tromba in the second concerto. And the cadence in the 3rd concerto, which separates the two movements, is replaced by the Adagio from Bach's Trio Sonata in G major (BWV1038).

The opening Allegro of the 1st concerto is crisply played and the tuning is excellent, but it rather jogs along at too steady a pace. I would certainly have preferred a livelier tempo. The Adagio opens with a lovely oboe solo and all the solo playing is of a very high order. The second Allegro is livelier than the first, with beautifully sprung rhythmic shape and just the right degree of bounce. This rhythmic shaping applies to the minuets which are played in a very danceable manner.

The solo playing is of an equally high order in the opening Allegro of the 2nd concerto, but here the recorders sound a little under powered compared to modern instruments. This balance problem is remedied in the 2nd movement which has a lovely chamber music scale, but here I felt that a hint of sourness crept into the recorder tone.

The group brought a fine chamber music feel to the performances of the 3rd concerto. For me, the opening movement of this concerto was played at rather too moderate an Allegro and there were hints of untidiness in the rank and file solos. I am not convinced about the insertion on the Adagio from the Trio Sonata as the linking passage. It does not help that the Adagio is played as a separate movement with a track separation rather than the more conventional linking passage. But this is one of the eternal problems of this work and it is good to hear different ideas and solutions. The finale is played in an impressively brisk manner, but I did not like the way that the end of the performance seemed to just evaporate.

No performance is going to satisfy everyone and performing these works on modern instruments leads to some interesting balance problems. It is to Robert Haydon Clarkís credit that this recording is so satisfactory. These are attractive performances and much thought has obviously gone into making them work on modern instruments. The tempi are usually well judged and the phrasing is sympathetic and stylish. The ensemble playing is crisp and well tuned, with impressive solo contributions; especially notable is the David Juritzís playing of the violino piccolo in the first concerto. He manages to get a wonderfully warm tone from this tricky instrument.

If you are interested in a well recorded modern instrument version of these works, then do explore this recording. And even if you prefer original instrument ensembles, at super budget price, this recording is well worth exploring anyway.

Robert Hugill

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