Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Four Concertos for Harpsichord: Concerto in C minor for Two Harpsichords BWV 1060 [16.30]; Concerto in D minor for three harpsichords BWV 1063 [17.30]; Concerto in C major for three harpsichords BWV 1061 [19.23]; Concerto in A minor for four harpsichords BWV 1066 [11.17]
Saar Chamber Orchestra/Karl Ristenpart
rec. Europe, 1965, Club Français du Disque, Paris
Transferred from a Nonesuch LP H-1019

These are historic recordings, digitally re-mastered as the details tell us: “Transferred from commercially released analogue, reel-to-reel tapes”. It’s a good idea to have all four of Bach’s multiple concertos on one disc and they make fascinating bedfellows.

Its true that all of Bach’s harpsichord concertos “are thought to be arrangements made from earlier concertos for melodic instruments, probably written in Köthen” to quote the anonymous and succinct yet somewhat unhelpful booklet notes. It’s especially interesting to consider that some, at least of the transcriptions may well have been made for his sons C.P.E. and W.F. who were still (about 1730-33) living at home. In addition a pupil Johann Ludwig Krebs might well have played in performances of these concertos.

It is also generally thought that these multiple works were played before the great man even considered writing the solo harpsichord concertos. So for example the C minor concerto is identical with the concerto for two violins of about 1720. The A minor concerto for four harpsichords is a transcription of one by Vivaldi for four violins. There are in fact also two other concertos for two harpsichords, and one other for three harpsichords.

Compared with modern day recordings you may well find these versions although determined and well prepared to be rather heavy-handed. As in the case of the third movement Allegro for the C major work, and the finale of the concerto for four harpsichords they are also a little slow. They’re possibly even lacking in many dynamics and expression markings, which have to be imposed by performers but should be seriously considered. This is partially also because there appears to be too many upper strings. Also the recording, although well spaced and balanced is a little too close.

The notes tell us something about a rather forgotten figure, the conductor Karl Ristenpart who died whilst while on tour in Portugal in 1967 aged sixty-seven. Most of his career he worked and recorded with the Saar Chamber Orchestra and concentrated his efforts on Bach, Mozart and a little Monteverdi; he also worked alongside Stravinsky. They made over 170 LPs including work by about 250 composers. I mention this just to admit to the fine credentials of Ristenpart even if his Bach, as represented here, does not now appeal. So this disc is a period piece, which might be worth searching out if you bear in mind that nowadays this style and recording is not as we expect.

Gary Higginson

A period piece CD which might be worth searching out if you bear in mind that nowadays this style and recording is not as we expect.