Johann Sebastian BACH
No.1 in D minor, BWV 1052 (c.1738) [20:42]
No.2 in E major, BWV 1053 (c.1738) [19:01]
No.4 in A major, BWV 1055 (c.1738) [13:19]
No.3 in D major, BWV 1054 (c.1738) [15:46]
No.5 in F minor, BWV 1056 (c.1738) [9:19]
No.6 in F major, BWV 1057 (c.1738) [15:40]
No.7 in G minor, BWV 1058 (c.1738) [13:15]
Concerto for flute, violin and harpsichord in A minor, BWV 1044*
Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 in D major, BWV 1050 (pre.1722) [21:19]
Italian Concerto in F major, BWV 971 (undated) [12:34]
Murray Perahia (pianist and director)
Kenneth Sillito* (violin)
Jaime Martin* (flute)
Academy of St. Martin in the Fields
rec. Air Studios, Lyndhurst Hall, London, England, 14-16 May 2000
(BWV 1052, 1053, 1055); 12-13 May 2001 (BWV 1054, 1056, 1057, 1058);
1 April and 29 June 2003 (BWV 1044, 1050, 971)
SONY CLASSICAL 88697 82429 2 [3 CDs: 53:05 + 55:13 + 55:18]
Invariably the first thing that is said about J.S. Bach’s seven
concertos for single harpsichord and orchestra (BWV 1052-1058)
is that they are arrangements of other works. Although now lost,
musicologists generally agree that the originals are by Bach
himself. Don’t let the ‘arrangement’ tag put you off as these
are high quality scores deserving of a place in the repertoire.
Murray Perahia plays these concertos on a Steinway concert grand
giving him the ability to sustain notes and use dynamics that
inevitably brings out additional colours over the restrictions
of the harpsichord.
The increase in interest in authentic instruments and period
informed performances of early music have allowed the listener
to hear the music in the manner that Bach may well have heard
it. There are several satisfying versions of these concertos
played on the harpsichord. I especially admire the 2002 accounts
from harpsichordist Lars Ulrik Mortensen playing and directing
the Concerto Copenhagen on CPO, from Trevor Pinnock and The
English Concert recorded in 1979/81 on Archiv Produktion and
the 2002 release from harpsichordist Richard Egarr and the Academy
of Ancient Music directed by Andrew Manze on Harmonia Mundi.
We can only wonder what ‘old Bach’ might have thought about
his concertos being played on a concert grand. An apposite remark
that renowned concert pianist John Lill made to me in an interview
when discussing this very same question springs to mind, “Would
Bach have turned down a modern bathroom?” I think not.
Recorded in 2000/03 at the London Air Studios it is good to
welcome these Perahia recordings back to the catalogue. Played
on modern instruments the keyboard concertos were particularly
high sellers for the Sony label at the time of the initial release;
they certainly garnered much praise. Despite struggling for
long periods with a hand injury there can be few better pianists
on the scene today more suited to the playing of Bach than Murray
Perahia. Perahia’s high regard and his recovery from the injury
is demonstrated by winning the Best Instrumental Recording
at the 2010 BBC Music Magazine Award for his recording
of Bach’s Solo Keyboard Partitas 1, 5 and 6 on Sony.
In addition to the seven single concertos for keyboard and orchestra
this three disc Sony/Perahia set also includes the Concerto
for flute, violin and harpsichord in A minor; the Brandenburg
Concerto No. 5 and the Italian Concerto in F major.
Following the fast-slow-fast three movement scheme these
concertos for harpsichord and orchestra, prefigure the beginning
of the modern piano concerto as the progressive-minded Bach
liberates the harpsichord from its subordinate role in the basso
From CD1 the Keyboard Concerto No.1, probably based on
an earlier now lost violin concerto, is one of Bach finest concertos.
The scuttling tones of Perahia’s piano in the opening Allegro
overlays mysterious undercurrents. With its ominous opening
the Adagio strives for calm and serenity yet cannot truly
settle owing to the nervous anxiety in the writing. Playing
of unbridled joy in the buoyantly taken Allegro brings
the score to a splendid conclusion. Slightly over-bright, the
piano is forwardly placed.
CD2 was of a generally improved sound quality and I especially
enjoyed the performance of the Keyboard Concerto No.7.
This highly melodic and memorable score is an arrangement of
Bach’s celebrated Violin Concerto in A minor, BWV 1041.
The opening movement sounds so brisk and fresh as played by
Perahia with remarkable exuberance. Music of heartrending beauty
in the Andante is followed by the swiftly taken Allegro
Assai which is breezy and elegant with a touch of nobility.
I felt CD3 was too closely recorded and not a comfortable fit
for the sound-picture. A favourite score of mine is the Concerto
for flute, violin and harpsichord in A minor with Perahia
being joined by violinist Kenneth Sillito and flautist Jaime
Martin. In the opening Allegro the blend of the three
solo instruments is dominated by Perahia’s close and boomy piano
who also has the lion’s share of the material.
In the Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 the close recorded
sound and the choice of tempi rather spoilt my enjoyment. As
Perahia took the opening Allegro surprisingly cautiously
I had the sense that the players were straining at the leash
for a swifter tempo. Lighter and more gentle playing of the
Affettuoso allowed the music to be heard more clearly
and what wonderful music it is too; so graceful and delicate.
Perahia takes the Presto: Finale a touch carefully
leaving an impression that the music required additional robustness
Murray Perahia is a player of real artistry. His assured playing
has character and style with first class support from the ASMF.
What did rather spoil the experience was Perahia’s occasionally
surprising tempi selection. Generally I was uncomfortable with
the closely recorded sound. I was left with the sense that a
great opportunity had been missed.