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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Orchestral Suites and Violin Concertos
Alexei Utkin (solo oboe); Tobias Carron, Elena Duran (solo flutes); Sergei Bezrodny (solo harpsichord); Arkady Futer, Boris Garlitsky (CD 4 10-12) (solo violins)
Moscow Virtuosi/Vladimir Spivakov (violin and director)
rec. 22-28 April 1989, 20 April 1990, Herkulessaal der Residenz, Munich (CDs 1-2); 10–14 July 1982, Église de St Matthieu, Colmar, France (CD 2); 24-30 July 1988, Église du Liban, Paris (CD 4), DDD.
Full contents list at end of review
NEWTON CLASSICS 8802086 [4 CDs: 233:48]

Experience Classicsonline

Newish label Newton Classics has been doing a fine job unearthing neglected and deleted recordings and re-issuing them in a bargain format. These are digital performances by revered violinist and conductor Vladimir Spivakov directing the Moscow Virtuosi. They are recorded variously in Paris, Munich and at the Colmar Festival in France between 1982 and 1990 - and they have come up very nicely.

They are more traditional in style and played on modern instruments, although vibrato is kept to a tasteful minimum. There is none of the aggressive heavy-handedness previously associated with Russian ensembles. I am rarely an advocate of the “let the music do the talking” schools of musical criticism and performance, especially as it is often an index to lazy, bland or uninspired interpretation. Here, however, I find myself admiring the grace and naturalness of Spivakov’s playing and direction without having very much to say about its specific features. He and his band, which he founded in 1979, exemplify the clarity of articulation typically associated with Russian string players. Textures are never thick; everything is poised and clean and each instrumental line emerges brightly. Tempi are sprung and represent a judicious compromise between anachronistic Romantic indulgence and the soulless jog-trot too often associated with the more extreme exponents of the HIP movement. Nor are the strings, for all that they retain some astringency, ever scrawny. The deliciously raucous trumpet playing is a virtuoso delight and the woodwind are suitably grainy. All this conveys a period sense without any of the concomitant disadvantages.

Some might find the Overtures too portentous; having been brought up with the Munchinger style that’s how I want to hear them played: grand and stately but never static. I’m not keen on the funny, fussy little embellishments in the second gavotte of no.1 however, but that’s a minor cavil.

One of the original 1987 reviews on first release of the violin concertos was scathing and trots out all the usual accusations from a fully paid-up member of the new HIP converts society: “ponderous … positively somnambulistic … vibrato-coated … heavy, heavy”. I don’t hear that at all: the slow movements in the violin concertos are indeed leisurely but very poised with immaculate intonation and a lovely, pure tone from Spivakov. He sustains and swells the B flat in the slow movement of the A minor concerto in strikingly beautiful fashion. All repeats are observed but the generally fleet tempi prevent any longueurs and the music positively dances along as it should. The musicians who accompany Spivakov in the violin concertos are first rate, as are solo flutes Tobias and Elena Duran and the aforementioned, uncredited trumpeter in the Suites.

All in all, this is a very attractive bargain compilation which as well as programming the expected works includes comparative rarities such as the D minor Concerto for violin and oboe, a reconstruction from the double harpsichord Concerto in C minor, BWV1060, and the three-violin Concerto, BWV1064, also derived from one for three harpsichords, itself of doubtful provenance.

Ralph Moore

Full contents list:-
CD 1 [51:44]
Orchestral Suite No.1 in C BWV1066 [26:43]
Orchestral Suite No.2 in B minor BWV1067 [25:01]
CD 2 [51:00]
Orchestral Suite No.3 in D BWV1068 [26:07]
Orchestral Suite No.4 in D BWV1069 [24:53]
CD 3 [57:38]
Violin Concerto in E BWV1042 [18:23]
Violin Concerto in A minor BWV1041 [14:19]
Oboe Concerto in D minor BWV1059/1056 [12:29]
Oboe d’amore Concerto in A BWV1055 [12:31]
CD 4 [73:16]
Concerto for violin and oboe in D minor, BWV1060 [14:43]
Concerto for violin, flute and harpsichord in A minor BWV1044 [23:04]
Concerto for two violins in D minor BWV1043 [16:26]
Concerto for three violins in D BWV1064 [19:03]