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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685–1785)
Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 in G major, BWV 1049
Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 in D major, BWV 1050
Brandenburg Concerto No. 6 in B flat major, BWV 1051
Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B minor, BWV 1067
Jean-Pierre Rampal, flute
Ton Koopman, harpsichord
Monica Huggett and Roy Goodman, violins
Ricardo Kanji and Reine-Marie Verhagen, flûtes à bec
Wilbert Hazelzet, flute traversiere
Jan Schlapp and Trevor Jones, violas
Christophe Coin and Sarah Cunningham, violas da gamba
Jaap Ter Linden, violoncello
The Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra
Rec. no details given
WARNER APEX 2564 61364-2 [73:12]


Bringing out older recordings in the newer CD format is a big business for recording companies. There’s nothing wrong with this, per se. Good or classic recordings made before the invention of the CD have a right to find their way to today’s audience and not languish. Warner Classics has created the series Apex in order to accomplish this as best they can.

Given the number of early music groups around the world today, it is interesting to hear one of the genre’s earlier proponents, Ton Koopman and The Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra, make their way through Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos 4 – 6 and Orchestral Suite in B minor. Times change, tastes changes, and although there is something evergreen about these performances, there are some questions as well. The recordings, first brought out on Erato in 1972 and 1985, contain accounts of energetic soloists, playing athletically. Although this has its positive side, there’s not much room for terracing of dynamics, or for dynamic range period. I hate to use the word heavy-handed but there, I’ve now said it. If everyone involved in these recordings had a chance to do it over again today, and I would include the engineers and producers along with the performers in this "what if?" question, would they do it the same way now as then? These performers were young then, and now with thousand of miles of experience behind them it might be a wiser, more thoughtful performance that they turn out. There is something relentless and hammering in the continuo playing of these recordings, and although the violin playing is flashy, especially by Monica Huggett, is this what we really need?

On the surface, these are fine recordings. Deeper down, I’m not sure there is a deeper down. The slow movements are a real test, and as performed by this group and its soloists there are many static moments. Rests should serve as pauses filled with tension. Instead, they become a sort of void. I am not sure if this is due to lack of direction from Koopman. There are also a few fluffed notes here and there, and some disagreement in intonation in the opening bars of Concerto No. 6. This particular concerto sounds as if many people are struggling to have their own individual opinion heard. Despite this, there is some particular fluid playing by cellist Jaap Ter Linden here.

The Orchestral Suite No. 2, as played by Rampal is also full-bloodied, and modern. The continuo section does an outstanding job of shadowing and imitating him. The Rondeau sounds a little machine-like as played by the ensemble, more like an exercise than an expression of an idea of phrasing. We are spoiled these days, what with so many sources for first-rate and in-touch recordings by early music groups. Do not misunderstand me. If you are, as a listener, coming from a modern perspective in that you love Mozart, Bach and Handel indiscriminately, then this recording will satisfy you. If you are someone instead who is looking beyond that for something that delves deeper, pulls out new discoveries about composers you thought you knew, then you might look elsewhere.

The personnel credits are incomplete, and that is unfortunate as there is some lovely playing from the basso continuo players in Concertos No. 4 and 5. Perhaps it would have been better to list everyone. It couldn’t have been that difficult. There is also a consistently irritating start to each Concerto’s first movement, in that there is no "room sound" before the downbeat, almost as if someone had to punch in or cut very close in the editing room, right at the beginning. It makes for a very sudden start, as if no one breathes an upbeat before playing. I could understand if this happened in one of the concertos, but it happens at the start of each one. Rampal’s name is right at the top of the credits but he only appears on a quarter of the recording. Smart marketing, I say, but the Amsterdam Baroque does the lion’s share of the work. The program notes of Raymond McGill are fully informational. Also, Warner probably could have put a little more effort into its mastering. Think of that word, mastering. It implies making it better or the best.

Chase Pamela Morrison

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