This disc is a delight, an aural and musical treat, and a riposte to anyone
who may think we already have enough recordings of the Bach concertos.
It is beautifully played, stylishly directed and captured in recorded
sound of wholesome, natural beauty. It is that sound that provides
the disc’s first great pleasure. The impression the listener gets
is of being right at the heart of the performance, close up to the
instruments while allowing them sufficient room to breathe. The balance
is also extremely well captured, making the soloists partners with
the orchestra rather than combatants. When the double concerto opens
the tutti the sound is warm and rich while open enough to
remain transparent. When the soloists enter they emerge from the texture,
becoming first among equals rather than grandstanders. The to and
fro between orchestra and soloists is made even greater by the fact
that the soloists direct the orchestra, thus unifying the performances
with stylish wholeness. This partnership is so close that, at times
in the A minor concerto it feels as though you are listening to a
double concerto here too, so warm is the interplay between the soloist
and the orchestra, even down to the individual violinists in the band.
This also helps the tempo selections. First movements are brisk without
being wilful, but the slow movements get plenty of room to breathe
too. The sublime Largo of the Double Concerto, for example,
is given plenty of space to unfold organically with never a hint of
rushing or of taking too long. The tempo, like so much else on this
disc, just feels completely right, reminding us that this orchestra
fosters relationships with soloists and conductors as complementary
individuals, doing everything by agreement and accord, something of
which Bach himself would doubtless have approved.
There is great beauty to their sound, too. Under some directors I
have found the Freiburg Baroque sound to be rather abrasive and unlovely
- not here. Instead there is polish to the finished sound without
ever sounding manufactured, and I found myself completely taken in.
There is a joyous buoyancy to the E major concerto, the first movement
almost bouncing along in its path, while the finale grows into each
phrase so as to lift the music from one level to the next. This is
partly due to von der Goltz’s organic choice of tempi. Mülljeans brings
the same intelligence to the pacing of the A minor concerto, particularly
the slow movement which treads the fine line between elegance and
liveliness. The finale then swings with all the vigour of a jig, making
this a completely satisfying version of the concerto.
The triple concerto is a reconstruction from Bach’s C major for three
harpsichords BWV 1064, but in many ways it highlights all the disc’s
virtues and sets the seal on it brilliantly. The interplay between
soloists and orchestra is even closer here, and at times in the outer
movements it is difficult to tell whether it is a soloist or an orchestral
violin playing. That is a virtue rather than a problem and it stands
as testament to the fraternal music making both of the Freiburg Baroque
and Bach’s own concerto-style. The slow movement, by contrast, interweaves
the lines of the three violins over a gently ambling continuo line,
constructing a peaceful interlude between the busy outer sections.
All told, then, this is a near ideal version of the Bach concertos
for anyone who values partnership and cooperation over grandstanding
and attention-grabbing. Put it alongside other great period performers
like Pinnock, Podger and Koopman. Enjoy it as a worthy complement
to classics like Grumiaux, Perlman and Oistrakh.
Masterwork Index: Bach