RECORDING OF THE MONTH
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Concerto for two violins in D minor, BWV 1043 [15:35]
Violin Concerto in E major, BWV 1042 [16:19]
Violin Concerto in A minor, BWV 1041 [13:36]
Concerto for three violins in D, BWV 1064R [15:58]
Anna Katharina Schreiber (violin -n BWV 1064)
Freiburger Barockorchester/Petra Mülljeans; Gottfried von der Goltz (violin/director)
rec. April 2012, Paulussaal, Freiburg
HARMONIA MUNDI HMC 902145 [61:35]
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.
A delight, an aural and musical treat, and a riposte to anyone who may think we already have enough of the Bach concertos.
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