Johann Sebastian BACH (1685–1750) Concerti a violino certato
Concerto for violin, strings and bc in d minor (after BWV 1052) [20:05]
Concerto for violin, strings and bc in g minor (after BWV 1056) [09:20]
Concerto for violin, strings and bc in E (BWV 1042) [14:41]
Concerto for violin, strings and bc in a minor (BWV 1041) [12:58]
Gli Incogniti/Amanda Beyer (violin)
rec. January 2007, Église St Marcel, Paris, France. DDD ZIGZAG
TERRITOIRES ZZT070501 [57:06]
Comparison: Thomas Zehetmair, Amsterdam Bach Soloists (Berlin Classics, 1988)
Considering the prominent place of the violin in the baroque era it
is rather surprising that only two violin concertos and a
concerto for two violins by Bach have come down to us. There
is general agreement, though, that he had written more, and
that at least two of the concertos now known as works for
harpsichord and strings were originally composed as concertos
The Concertos in a minor and in E were for some time thought
to be composed in Cöthen or Arnstadt, but there is reason
to believe they were written in Leipzig. But the Concertos
in d minor
and in g minor were definitely written before Bach moved
to Leipzig. It is there where he must have transcribed them
for performances by the Collegium Musicum. There have always
been doubts about whether Bach was the composer of these
concertos. Ludwig Finscher, for instance, suggests the Concerto
in d minor could be an arrangement of a work by another composer.
He also refers to the assumption the Concerto in g minor
could be an arrangement of a concerto by Vivaldi or some
other Italian composer, but he thinks it is most likely an
original composition by Bach.
When I received this disc I had already read good things about it,
so my expectations were high. But having heard it I am amazed
about the positive response it has received. Even if I am
very critical about a recording I always try to find at least
something positive to say, but that is very difficult here.
Actually this is one of the ugliest performances of Bach's
violin concertos I have heard in a long time.
So what exactly is wrong with it? First of all: the sound
of the ensemble, and in particular the solo violin. If I
had heard the Concerto
in d minor on the radio, not knowing who were playing, I
had assumed some violinist was trying to play as "authentically" as
possible on his modern violin with metal strings, but to
no avail. Knowing that Amanda Beyer and Gli Incogniti are
playing period instruments with gut strings I'm just puzzled
why they produce such a "modern" sound. In particular
the solo violin sounds very different from other recordings
with baroque violin. It has to be said that the recording
technique doesn't help: apparently the microphones have been
very close to the strings of the solo violin. The first time
I listened to this recording with headphones, and it was
terrible. The second time I used my speakers, and the sound
was only slightly better, but still very unpleasant.
But then there is the interpretation. The solo violin is too prominent,
and I wonder whether this is the result of an artistic decision
or a matter of recording technique. In solo concertos of
the baroque era the solo instrument is nothing more than
a 'primus inter pares', and shouldn't stand too much apart
from the tutti. But that is exactly what is the case here.
Amanda Beyer is well aware of the need to differentiate between
'good' and 'bad' notes – the former should be emphasized,
the latter should get less attention. But that doesn't mean
notes should become practically inaudible as they are here.
Even with my headphones on I hardly could hear them.
Even though most movements in baroque concerti have indications like
'allegro' or 'adagio', dance rhythms are everywhere. The
rhythmic pulse is an essential feature of this kind of repertoire,
and has always to be preserved. As a listener one has to
feel the dance rhythm. Those who are acquainted with the
interpretations of Gustav Leonhardt know what I mean, as
he is an absolute master in the subtle realisation of the
rhythm in baroque music. But in this recording dance rhythms
are hardly discernible.
The fast movements are taken at high speed, and there is
nothing wrong with that, as long as they don’t sound hurried
and restless. But here they do exactly that. In addition,
in the adagio
of the Concerto in E the harpsichord is obtrusive and the
repetition of arpeggios is just annoying. The andante is
not a slow but a moderately fast movement, and in this recording
the andante of the Concerto in a minor is definitely too
Like I said, I find it difficult to say anything positive about this
recording. The only thing I can think of is that the Concertos
in E and in a minor are slightly better than the first two
concertos on this disc. But it is too little and too late
to save this interpretation as a whole.
After listening to this disc I turned to a much older recording of
the same four concertos by Thomas Zehetmair and the Amsterdam
Bach Soloists. They play on modern instruments, but according
to the principles of the historical performance practice.
In every respect their performances are superior to this
recent recording. They play Bach's concertos with subtlety
and grace, whereas this recording by Ms Beyer and Gli Incogniti
is rough and often aggressive. As a result, Zehetmair's interpretation
is very expressive, something this new recording is most
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