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Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

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Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

 

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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685 - 1750)
Brandenburg Concerto #3, BWV 1048 (1721) [12.27]
Brandenburg Concerto #5, BWV 1050 (1721) [21.53]
Suite #3 in D, BWV 1068 (1727?): #2, Air ("on the G String") [5.33]
Nicolae Licaret, harpsichord
Soloists from the "George Enescu" Philharmonic Orchestra
Christian Mandeal, conductor
Recorded at the Atheneum, Bucharest, Romania, 31 August 2001.
Four audio tracks: MLP 5.1 Surround, Dolby Digital 5.1 "Audience" Mix; DTS "Stage" Mix, PCM Stereo.
Technical notes in English. No photos or comments on the music or performers.
www.aixrecords.com
Mark Waldrep, producer, recording and mastering engineer, and artistic direction.
playable on DVD players and DVD Audio players. Not playable on CD players.
AIX IMAGE ENTERTAINMENT DVD AUDIO/VIDEO 1338 AX [39.53]

My first reaction on reading the label of this recording was to be a little apprehensive of a full symphony orchestra playing these works, since a large string orchestra playing particularly the Brandenburg #3 can sound like turbulent if agreeable sonic mush. But, not to worry, only the leading players are involved in the Brandenburgs, and they play as well as anyone has ever played these works, with a nice awareness of original performance practice but with rich tone and a lyric sense of phrase. Tempi are about the current norm, somewhat brisk by older standards. The Ďslow movement problemí of #3 is solved by having the harpsichordist improvise some runs and arpeggios, coming in for a landing on the famous cadential chords, and then itís off to the races again. The harpsichordist, pianist Nicolae Licaret, plays the demanding part in #5 as well as Iíve ever heard it played. This takes courage because before high resolution recording you couldnít hear all the mistakes, and they all made them, including the great Veyron-LaCroix. Consider the extreme difficulty of this part: the harpsichordist, playing both the continuo and concertato keyboard parts never stops playing, not for one second, during the entire work. He probably plays ten times as many notes as in the Beethoven Emperor Concerto.

I once tried to start an argument by stating flatly that the Brandenburg Concerto #5 is the greatest single piece of music ever written (at least in the 15 to 40 minutes instrumental class), but failed because after a little discussion everybody in the room came to agree with me.

To see how this disk would play in a DVD (video) player I put it in my new Sony DVD/SACD player which contains a 96kHz D/A audio chip. There is also a firm notice in the booklet that it does not (sniff!) play DVD-Audio disks. The AIX logo (unfortunately not a silent one!) appeared on the screen and then the audio set-up menu, and when I didnít click anything, almost at once the 96kHz PCM stereo track began to play. Even in two channel stereo there was a magical clarity, every note of the harpsichord audible but not overly prominent, and the clear separation of the ripieno from the concertino. On the screen is a playlist of tracks including entries to other menus. Upon returning to the audio set-up menu, I selected DTS surround sound and there I was, seated at the harpsichord, with the ripieno to the left (front) and the concertino to the right (rear). Every note of every instrument was brilliantly clear. Iíve never heard this music like this before, with the interplay between the soloists and the string orchestra so clear and distinct. I found myself listening to the second solo viola in #3, a part Iíd never noticed before. Certainly I had never appreciated the complexity of this work which before had always been little more than an agreeable bouncy muddle of string sound.

As if this wasnít good enough, on a true DVD-Audio player the same selection of tracks is available in significantly clearer sound.

There will probably be those people for whom music is exclusively a Ďspectator sportí who will condemn this surround sound as a useless gimmick. They will insist that we always hear music coming from the stage and thatís how it should always be recorded. But thatís not true. The composer, the conductor, and the musicians hear the music close-up, all around them. Those of us who always wanted to be performing musicians want to hear music that way, and itís a perfectly valid intellectual and æsthetic experience. And on this disk you have your choice.

For the aria from Suite #3, we do hear an apparently larger string ensemble with harpsichord up front on the lute register joining the pizzicato low strings in the accompaniment to produce a beautiful sound. As usual, the work is played too slow, but there is no sentimentalising, just generous breathing phrases and a rich cantilena.

Paul Shoemaker



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