After waxing so lyrical about Ramin Bahrami’s Leipzig recording
I was a little concerned about having to make a choice between
that and this recording from Alexandre Tharaud. Fortunately
there are plenty of excuses for having both. Admittedly there
are overlaps with the BWV 1052, 1054 and 1056
concerti, but with a wide difference in approach, the concert
BWV 1058 and that four keyboard concerto BWV 1065
as well as an extra Marcello arrangement there is plenty of
complimentary music to be found here.
We know Alexandre Tharaud from his excellent Scarlatti disc
and his contributions to the Naxos Poulenc Chamber Music series,
but this is something of a new venture. Les Violons du Roy is
a period performing ensemble which uses modern instruments with
period bows. This means having a period sound, but no problems
performing with modern instruments at A=440 concert pitch. I
hear you asking, “period bows with a modern piano?” Yes, I am
sure there are critics who will be apoplectic with stylistic
nausea at the mere thought, but this is only one step further
along an already well-trodden path which regularly brings us
period orchestral style in all kinds of contexts. The string
sound is less warm than with Bahrami’s Gewandhausorchester recording
which is only to be expected. To my ears this makes for instance
the slow movement of BWV 1054 marginally less miraculous,
but the musicians easily make up for less body in the sound
through their sensitivity of dynamics and tenderness at such
points. They go for arco or bowed rather than plucked
pizzicato in the slow movement of BWV 1056, which
changes the character of the music, broadening it considerably
when compared with Chailly’s, which is a good half minute shorter.
Both are good, but tastes will differ. There are a few more
of these kinds of tweaks here and there, but none of these come
across as anything particularly unconventional.
The piano used by Tharaud is a nice sounding 1980s instrument,
not named but chosen for a mellow sound which made the soloist
think of pianos from the 1960s. The sound of a modern piano
against period strings will always be anathema for some people,
and this will not be cured by the use of a mature instrument.
The sound is a good deal less ‘in your face’ than some solo
recordings however, and the set-up is geared towards a chamber-music
feel to the performances, the piano staged behind the strings
on stage. While the instruments mix as well as could be hoped
this is not something which is particularly apparent from the
recording. The zing in the outer movements in each concerto
is keener than with Chailly, the bounce coming more from the
upper tones than from the bass with the Decca recording. I really
enjoy the sense of sunshine and brightness which comes from
the livelier movements, and there are no tempi with which I
can find fault.
There are genuine highlights in the little extra Adagio BWV
974 arranged from an oboe concerto by Alessandro Marcello,
and re-worked by Thabaud and Bernard Labadie. The string contributions
are the subtlest of introductions and a brief coda, the bulk
of the piece being carried by the piano. The Concerto for
four keyboards and orchestra BWV 1065 is also a real treat.
Alexandre Tharaud has recorded each part himself, multitracking
the same piano from different positions on the stage. This is
all done with the lightest of touches, and rather unexpectedly
is not heavy at all. The real money moment comes in the central
largo, where the multiple pianos join in a magical pre-minimalist
section which would easily provide enough material for an hour
long piece by Simeon ten Holt.
This is a superb CD and a set of marvellous performances which
I would recommend to anyone with a warm heart and an open mind.
Would I choose it over Bahrahmi/Chailly for my desert island?
Perhaps not: even for me the balance of a larger body of strings
with modern bows fits a few degrees better with a modern piano,
but more importantly the sheer joy in the Decca performances
is something I plan to keep close for a long time to come. There
is plenty of fun and life in Tharaud/Labadie as well though,
and the music remains an infectious buzz which you carry around
with you all day even after just a quick blast. The musical
points are made just a little more earnestly however, tiny little
rubati picked over expertly and musically but on occasion a
little too microscopically in my opinion. These are points of
taste rather than criticisms, and I will place this recording
next to all the others with pride and in the knowledge that
its well-tempered sounds will be brought out to brighten many
a gloomy evening in these intemperate times.