Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Brandenburg Concertos BWV1046-1051 [52:07 + 64:44]
Soloists and members of the Orchestra des Cento Soli/Hermann Scherchen
rec. November 1954, Paris
FORGOTTEN RECORDS FR 197-98 [52:07 + 64:44]
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.
Jonathan Woolf
Performances of generosity and warmth.