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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Concertos for Harpsichord and Strings Vol. 2
Concerto in A major BWV 1055 [13:27]
Concerto in f minor BWV 1056 [8:38]
Concerto in F major BWV 1057 [14:47]
Concerto in g minor BWV 1058 [11:34]
Concerto Copenhagen/Lars Ulrik Mortensen (harpsichord, director)
rec. 17-20 January 2005, The Garrisson Church, Copenhagen. DDD
CPO 777 248-2 [48:30]

This second volume of harpsichord concertos recorded by Lars Ulrik Mortensen and Concerto Copenhagen proves itself as an extremely worthy competitor in its field (see review of volume 1). From the opening bars of the A major concerto BWV 1055 (the first of four concertos on this disc), the striking vibrancy of both the performance and the recorded sound is instantly evident, which continues throughout the whole of this fine recording.
By contrast with a number of alternative recordings of this music – as well as other recordings of early music that shares similar resources – the overall balance of the solo harpsichord and the strings is particularly effective. Among the credible alternatives – such as the much-lauded 2-disc set by Richard Egarr, Andrew Manze and the Academy of Ancient Music on Harmonia Mundi – extremely musical and committed performances can often seem a little disappointing, with the harpsichord appearing as something of a background ‘dressing’ in the overall mix. On this occasion, however, all credit to the recording engineers who have gained a good deal of depth from each of the players, while leaving the harpsichord particularly forward and present, as well as garnering a predominantly rich sound from the solo recorders of the F major concerto BWV 1057. 
Of the four harpsichord concertos on this disc at least three were arrangements of concertos for other instruments, the most well-known of these alternative versions being the Concerto in F major BWV 1057, which is more recognisable as Bach’s fourth Brandenburg Concerto. Here the harpsichord replaces the solo violin alongside the two recorders, with many florid additions for the keyboard player. The efficiency and skill of Bach’s own arrangements could allow one easily to be duped into imagining that these versions for harpsichord were the original intentions of the composer.
A particular highlight of this disc, however, has to be the dramatic fervour and tension depicted in the Concerto in f minor BWV 1056. Easily the most compact work of the recording, and originally a concerto for solo violin, the near-theatrical urgency of the two outer movements is amusingly interrupted by a nonchalantly lyrical second movement – a contrast admirably heightened on this recording.
Concerto Copenhagen are exceptional as a close unit and are highly capable of being both impulsive and measured in equal amounts, whilst offering detailed, stylistic and musical representations of this repertoire. Lars Ulrik Mortensen leads the group from the harpsichord with an easy confidence. Frequent variations in his articulation allow pertinent points within the score ample space to breathe – predominantly within the quicker movements where the pace can indubitably become relentless.
Adam Binks


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