RECORDING OF THE MONTH
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Concerto No.VI in F, BWV1057 [16:11]
Concerto in g minor, BWV1058 [13:09]
Concerto No.I in d minor, BWV1052 [21:09]
Concerto No.IV in A, BWV1055 [13:22]
Retrospect Ensemble/Matthew Halls (harpsichord)
ec. St George’s Church, Chesterton, Cambridge, 27- 29 September 2011. DSD
LINN RECORDS SACD CKD410 [64:24]
Like all recent Linn recordings, this one is available in hybrid SACD form or as downloads from linnrecords.com in a variety of formats - mp3, CD-quality lossless and Studio Master 24/96 and 24/192 quality.
Several recent Linn releases - Corelli Concerti Grossi, Op.6 (CKD411: Avison Ensemble - review), Zelenka Sonatas (CKD415 - review), and music by Parsons, White and Byrd from Magnificat (CKD417) - vied with this for the Recording of the Month, as did the latest Bach release from BIS and Suzuki: Volume 52 of their Cantata series containing BWV140, 112 and 29, which you’ll find in my 2012/22 Download News when it appears.
From the opening of BWV1057, Bach’s own recycling of the material from the Brandenburg Concerto No.4, I knew that this was an instant winner - but anything that Matthew Halls and the Retrospect Ensemble touch seems to turn to gold. There are other, larger-scale performances of these concertos and I shall turn to them from time to time still, not least to the vintage Trevor Pinnock set on DG and Angela Hewitt (piano) and Richard Tognetti on Hyperion (Volume 1 on CDA3003 should be your starter on mid-price CD or download (mp3 and lossless)). Despite my general aversion to Bach on the piano, Angela Hewitt is the exception, but it’s to this more intimate recording that I’m most likely to revert. You just need to accept that Angela Hewitt’s and Matthew Hall’s takes on the music are both excellent but quite different. This is music-making on the same scale as those original performances in the Leipzig coffee shop where the works were first performed.
Scholarship concerning pitch (415Hz) and temperament (1/6 comma meantone) meets sheer musical enjoyment here. The music goes with a swing without sounding mechanical and the recording is excellent - I listened to the SACD and to the 24/96 flac from the range on offer. The pdf booklet is first-class, too. I seem to be criticising Linn covers this month - the Corelli is far too funereal for such wonderful music and performances - and I wasn’t too keen on this Bach cover, but that’s the only reservation that I can muster.
I reviewed Matthew Halls’ recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations some time ago (Linn CKD356: my only doubt was whether most listeners would want the full 91 minutes with all repeats taken - see March 2010 Roundup), so the high quality of this recording of the concertos comes as no surprise, and I’ve enjoyed the other recordings that he’s made with the Retrospect Ensemble and the King’s Consort:
- Purcell Ten Sonatas in four parts (Linn CKD332 - see May 2009 Download Roundup and June 2009 Download Roundup) and Twelve Sonatas in three parts (Linn CKD374 - see October 2011/2 Download Roundup)
- Bach Easter and Ascension Oratorios (Linn CKD373 - see May 2011/1 Download Roundup)
- Handel Parnasso in festa (Hyperion CDA67701/2: Recording of the Month - review)
The CD layer of the recording is excellent but the SACD layer and the 24-bit download both add that little extra that makes them worth the cost, which is not exorbitant with even the 24/96 and 24/192 versions costing only £18. The SACD comes at £12 direct from linnrecords.com and possibly for slightly less than that from some online suppliers.
Gawain Glenton’s notes in the booklet are not the least of the virtues of this new recording.
Now may we have the other keyboard concertos including those for two, three and four solo instruments from these performers? Unless and until we do and for those who can’t wait, there’s one other set of performances on much the same scale as those of the Retrospect Ensemble that contains the solo keyboard concertos BWV1052, 1055 and 1056 on a 6-CD set from Alpha with the concertos for two- three- and four-keyboards, the Brandenburg Concertos, Orchestral Suites and Violin Concertos (ALPHA811 - see my April 2012/1 Download Roundup).
Intimate performances that complement other recordings and may well be your first choice.