Of the two sets of Brandenburg Concertos that Hermann Scherchen
recorded, I suspect the 1960 version with the Vienna State Opera
Orchestra is the better known. Earlier, in 1954 and in Paris,
he had set down a mono set with members of the Orchestra des
Cento Soli, among whom we can find notables such as violinist
Georges Tessier, oboist Robert Casier, harpsichordist Ruggero
Gerlin, and flautist Lucien Lavaillotte.
Scherchen directs with consistently relaxed tempi, though he
takes care to ensure that he avoids the kind of tonal saturation
that can belabour articulation. The results are performances
of generosity and warmth. Balances can be fascinating; in the
first concerto, for instance, he manages to obtain a very forward
wind choir - with Casier’s oboe strongly audible - that
rather suggests Renaissance sonorities. The horns of Louis Bernard
and Georges Barboteu are on good form as well. Some aspects
of this performance show Scherchen the forward-thinker stylistically;
others are of their time - texture perhaps exemplifies the former
and tempo the latter. The big rallentando that ends the Adagio
of this concerto and the associated hushed diminuendos are part
of an aesthetic preference that takes in the interiorised phrasing
- some may say it’s ‘precious’- that informs
part of the third movement Allegro. Still, these are
all fascinating corollaries of Scherchen’s approach and
deserve wide hearing, even alongside such performances as those
by Adolf Busch, Boyd Neel, Karl Haas and their associated ensembles.
You will hear some quixotic pitching from the French orchestra
at several points - you’ll certainly notice it in the
Second Concerto. The slow tempo for the opening of the Third
Concerto sounds deliberately imposed, where Scherchen seems
more to be exploring the music’s harmonic, vertical structure.
Even in 1954 this must have seemed, given the antecedents, very
slow indeed. Things are much better in No.4 with excellent interplay
between solo flute and violin; unlike the didactic Third, this
concerto unfolds at a good tempo. The collegiate soloists in
No.5 perform attractively, though there is no truly outstanding
musician among them. The requisite sense of chamber intimacy
is generated in the slow movement and the finale is pleasingly
buoyant. The warmth of violas and viola da gambas animate No.6
- the violists are Pierre Ladhuie and Jacques Balout, while
the gamba players are Robert Cordier and Jean Lamy. This, in
part, compensates for a rather galumphing approach to rhythm.
Again, Scherchen seems to slow down when he feels that the harmonic
implications of the music need especial stress.
Scherchen admirers who may have the Vienna recording but are
unfamiliar with this set will certainly like to hear it. It
has been reissued before, most recently on ReDiscovery RD002/003,
but Forgotten Records has utilised excellent LP copies and made
a first class restoration of its own.