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CD: Crotchet

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Brandenburg Concerto No 5 in F, BWV 1050 (1721) [19:09]
Brandenburg Concerto No 6 in G, BWV 1051 (1721) [14:28]
Concerto for Flute, Violin, and Harpsichord in A minor, BWV 1044 (1730-5) [20:38]
I Barocchisti/Diego Fasolis
Recording information not given
ARTS AUTHENTIC 47716-8 [54:28]
Experience Classicsonline

The same conductor and ensemble perform this entire program, yet the various concertos are performed in two completely different styles!

In the last two Brandenburgs, I Barocchisti continues in the vein of the first four (on Arts Authentic 47715-8 - see review), fusing an adventurous if disconcerting hybrid of "period" and modern approaches. At first, the first movement of BWV 1050 sounds skittery, lacking in sheer old-fashioned dignity; but as the players settle, the music achieves a nice flow. The violin and the flute add trills on some of the back-and-forth sustained notes, but, oddly, the similar passage at 3:41 leading back to the main theme is left bald! Director Diego Fasolis brings a nice flair to the harpsichord cadenza, with some added bass couplings, but the ending is a bit abrupt and breathless. The forthright Affettuoso has a cool demeanour that belies its designation. The finale, however, is quite good: the tempo is by no means outré, and the buoyancy and lift of the phrasing would be welcome in any performance.

A swift tempo actually helps the first movement of BWV 1051: the upper two string lines, at what sounds like numerical parity, merge into a single, bustling statement where many performances give the effect of stronger and weaker partners. There's little ritard into the movement's close, but a strong tenuto on the last sustained chord gives it a "final" emphasis. Some listeners will want more affect in the Adagio ma non tanto -- surely some of Bach's most overtly expressive music -- but the flowing pace clarifies the shape of the melody. In the finale, the forte at 2:13 is attacked with surprising vehemence, and there's a few added appoggiaturas and trills in counterpoint at 2:54. But its recurring theme is sufficiently weighted to bring the concerto -- and the cycle as a whole, should you listen to all six concerti in sequence -- to a satisfying conclusion.

BWV 1044, compositionally and interpretively, brings us into a completely different realm. It's a full-sized, three-movement concerto rather than a concerto grosso, complete with introductory ritornello. The nominal concertino -- flute, violin, and harpsichord -- is identical to that of BWV 1050, but the harpsichord plays the principal role, with the flute and violin lines more obbligato than concertato in function.

It's a very different sort of piece from the Brandenburgs, then, and I Barocchisti changes its game plan accordingly, phrasing unaffectedly, avoiding obvious point-making, giving the music breathing room. The orchestra even sounds different: where the Brandenburgs could sound bass-heavy - perhaps because the handful of treble instruments lacked time to produce full tone - here the sonority is evenly balanced. The first movement is firm and grounded, at what sound like good mainstream tempi, with the minor key enhancing the overall sense of substance. Given the harpsichord's limited sustaining power, the mobile tempo for the central Adagio, ma non tanto e dolce is sensible and effective. The finale blossoms as handsome legato lines float in over, and occasionally supplant, the prevailing triplet motion. Harpsichordist Francesco Cera handles his prominent solo with assurance and musicality; his occasional use of heavier registrations provides variety and asserts the instrument's presence in the texture.

The SACD sounds vivid in plain frontal stereo, with excellent depth; but I'm puzzled at the absence of recording information. Presumably, these recordings were made along with those on the companion disc, in 2004, at Lugano's Auditorium RSI.

Stephen Francis Vasta

see also review by Paul Shoemaker



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