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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Concerto in C major for two harpsichords and strings, BWV1061
Concerto in C minor for two harpsichords and strings, BWV1062
Concerto in C minor for two harpsichords and strings, BWV1060
Concerto in A minor for four harpsichords and strings, BWV1065
Ton Koopman and Tini Mathot (harpsichords), Elina Mustonen and Patrizia Marisaldi (harpsichords - BWV1065 only)
Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra/Ton Koopman
recorded in the Doopsgezinde Kerk, Harlem, November 1988 (BWV1065) and the Oud Katholieke Kerk Maria Minor, Utrecht, December 1988 (BWV1061/2), June 1990 (BWV1060)
WARNER ELATUS 2564 61775-2 [54'17"]


These pieces are likely to be more interesting for the harpsichordist, composer or musicologist than for the listener: except that all listeners are, from the moment they have more than half a dozen CDs on their shelves, musicologists! As transcriptions - probably for him and his sons to play - of pieces originally conceived for string soloists, these pieces illuminate Bach’s thinking about melodic line, tone colour and orchestral balance, among other things, as well as doing everything else that good music does for us. But whether they ‘work’ as well as they do in their original format is debatable.

Of course we don’t always have the originals to hand to make that essential comparison. Of the music on this disc, BWV1060 in C minor tends most often to be heard these days in a conjectural ‘reverse transcription’ by Max Seiffert (published in 1920) as a Concerto in D minor - transposed up a tone - for violin and oboe: conjectural, but persuasive, even if the case for the oboe (instead of a second violin) is weak.

BWV1061 in C major exists in a version by Anna Magdalena Bach for two harpsichords without orchestra. But we can’t be certain whether this was the ‘original’ original, or indeed to what extent Bach (J.S., I mean) was responsible for the version we have here.

The most familiar piece on this disc is the other C minor, BWV1062, a reincarnation of the celebrated Concerto in D minor, again, a tone higher, for two violins. The busy outer movements work well in this new guise, the more so for being taken at a moderate pace: unlike some more recent recordings - Manze or Hahn, for example. However, the wonderful dialogue of intertwining lines in the slow movement of the original version - remember the two Oistrakhs? - can be made to ‘work’, if you think it does, in Bach’s transcription only by meticulously embellishing the soloists’ phrases, so that long notes are carried across the beat or the bar-line in order to make their harmonic effect. But with the best will in the world, you can’t possibly compare the melting suspensions and expressive collisions of the two solo violin voices with the percussive plucking of competing harpsichords!

The A minor Concerto, BWV1065, is a reworking of Vivaldi’s Concerto in B minor (Op 3/10, RV580) for four violins, from L’estro armonico. This is a winner: it’s difficult to resist the sheer clatter of four harpsichords, especially those deafening slow movement chords, with their spluttering dotted rhythms! Although the conversational exchanges in the outer movements are difficult to separate, even - as here - in a well-spaced recording. And Bach’s accompaniments are rather fuller, lush, I was tempted to say, than Vivaldi’s, making for a more substantial listening experience than the original. What a pity, but no surprise, perhaps, considering the ‘logistics’, that we seldom hear this ‘recomposition’ - as Schoenberg described his transcription of Handel’s Op 6/8 - in the concert hall.

If nothing else, this is a very interesting disc! As always, Koopman and his Amsterdam colleagues are models of good taste, artistic judgement and technical polish: and the two (or four) soloists play as one. The recording has a most agreeable ambience, and clearly separates the two or four solo instruments: try it on headphones for maximum effect. Despite being only two thirds ‘full’ - there’s room for one or two more concertos here - this is an appealing reissue, and can be confidently recommended.

Peter J Lawson

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