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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685 - 1750)
CD 1
Keyboard Concerto #1, BWV 1052 (1738) [22:21] 
Keyboard Concerto #2, BWV 1053 (1738) [19:22] 
Keyboard Concerto #3, BWV 1054 (1738) [16:22] 
CD 2
Keyboard Concerto #4, BWV 1055 (1738) [13:56] 
Keyboard Concerto #5, BWV 1056 (1738) [9:21] 
Keyboard Concerto #7, BWV 1058 (1738) [13:24] 
Italian Concerto BWV 971 (1735) [12:33]
  Vladimir Feltsman (piano, conductor), The Orchestra of St. Luke's 
rec. July 1993, American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, New York
  NIMBUS NI 2541/2[58:25 + 49:50]

Domenico SCARLATTI (1685 - 1757)
30 Keyboard Sonatas: K.14, 6, 106, 161, 490, 3, 32, 53, 105, 391, 45, 175, 145, 206, 327, 184, 407, 109, 496, 132, 402, 427, 466, 193, 215, 532, 443, 283, 380, 487
 John Browning (piano)
rec. April 1994, American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, New York
  NIMBUS NI 2544[70:53] 

Experience Classicsonline

Here are more of Nimbus' re-releases from the Music Masters catalogue. Those unearthing efforts were warmly welcomed when they offered Vladimir Feltsman's spunky and thoroughly gratifying Goldberg Variations from 1991. Those efforts are also welcome when it comes to Feltsman's recording of the Bach Keyboard Concertos—wholly affable and with liner-notes by Tim Page.

Admittedly, there is no reason to replace Angela Hewitt's slightly more complete, and considerably more expensive, recording (Hyperion, also available on SACD), or András Schiff (Decca), or Murray Perahia (Sony) with Feltsman. But if you have none of these recordings and you see Feltsman's about, go ahead and grab it in the secure knowledge that you will have a very fine account at hand.

Feltsman includes the 'standard 6', BWV 1052-1056 and 1057, but not BWV 1057, the modified Fourth Brandenburg and the incomplete BWV 1059 — and he adds a performance of the Italian Concerto. Much of what I said about Browning — tasteful, level-headed, technical efficacy — applies here, too, but at the other, upper end of the neutral-positive spectrum. The Orchestra of St. Luke's, conducted by Feltsman, turns in a very spirited performance. And although it's not a HIP band, their nimble forces and lissome playing make this 1993 recording sound modern which is to say: devoid of the 19th and 20th century romantic baroque opulence that had occurred here and there. Only in the opening Allegro of the F minor concerto (BWV 1056) is the orchestra minimally heavy-footed; everywhere else tempos strike lively and natural. Terrific stuff that makes for happy listening.

The same can't quite be said for the John Browning Scarlatti Sonata collection that Nimbus has helped to an extended, budget-priced life-cycle.

Recorded about eight years before his final recital — at the US Supreme Court (Browning v. Chopin) — it is a fine testament to Browning's unfussy, level-headed playing. Everything is tasteful - almost too tasteful - and in place. There are no technical issues and the sound is good. There's nothing wrong with it, and it is easy to derive great pleasure from the thirty popular sonatas Browning chose. But the enemy of the good is the perfect or, in this case, the very easy availability of more Scarlatti, performed with more individuality, more spirit, and generally better — at even less cost. Mikhail Pletnev's two-disc Scarlatti album (MusicWeb Review here) has rightly become the Alpha of all Scarlatti-on-the-piano discs. It is an inexorable element of any self respecting classical music collection. After Pletnev it's still not Browning's recital that vies for immediate attention. There are Yevgeny Sudbin (BIS), Maria Tipo (EMI), Vladimir Horowitz (Columbia), Christian Zacharias (EMI) or MDG), Konstantin Scherbakov (Naxos), and Ivo Pogorelich (DG) to get to, first.

If you're through those, or if you wish to familiarize yourself with John Browning's playing, then the Nimbus disc will, and should, enter your radar. It is a wonderful contrast to another great Browning recording, that of the Prokofiev Piano Concertos under Erich Leinsdorf (Testament).

Jens F. Laurson 


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