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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Brandenburg Concertos

Concerto No.1 in F, BWV1046 [20:31]
Concerto No.2 in F, BWV1047 [11:32]
Concerto No.3 in G, BWV1048 [11:37]
Concerto No.4 in G, BWV1049 [15:10]
Concerto No.5 in d minor, BWV1050 [20:41]
Concerto No.6 in B-flat, BWV1051 [16:12]
Oregon Bach Festival Orchestra/Helmuth Rilling
rec. Hult Center for the Performing Arts, Eugene, Oregon, 11-12 July 1994. DDD
HÄNSSLER CD94.615 [43:40 + 52:03]

Experience Classicsonline

These are by no means recent performances of the Brandenburg Concertos, having been around in one form or another for almost two decades. They remain available at a slightly higher price on Hänssler 92.126 and they have also been available in the past as part of a bumper omnium gatherum of Bach’s music (Hänssler 098.620, 172 CDs: Bargain of the Month - see review). Like Kirk McElhearn, reviewing that set, I enjoyed these performances but not enough to place them at or even close to the top of the pile.
Let me get my reservations out of the way first. In terms of price and value, this is by no means the least expensive way to obtain a decent set of these concertos. The set is selling for around £12.65-£14.50 in the UK, which looks like fair value until you see that similar sets played on modern instruments but with elements of period practice can be obtained for significantly less: Neville Marriner with the ASMF (Philips Duo 468 5492) for around £9.00 or slightly less or with the Orchestral Suites (EMI Triple 5009552) for around £7.00.
Then there’s the Double Decca set with the ECO conducted by Benjamin Britten which adds the ASMF and Marriner in the solo keyboard concerto No.5 and the concerto for two harpsichords for around £10.00 (443 8472). Those additions bring the playing time of this set up to over two hours, while the Hänssler Rilling set is almost half an hour shorter. Of course price and playing time are not the most important criteria, but I think that anyone who is likely to find the Rilling set to their liking will also like one or other of the Marriner recordings or the Britten.
From memory, too, I think you’ll find better documentation on all the sets that I’ve mentioned, whereas with Hänssler on this occasion you get one page each in German and English on the genesis of the Brandenburgs and half a page in each language on Rilling and the orchestra.
The Oregon orchestra employ modern instruments, a practice which Rilling has consistently defended. I’m not going to object when the result is as good as it is here, especially when he bows to period practice in employing recorders rather than flutes in Nos. 2 and 4 and retains the viola da gamba in No.6.
In general Rilling steers a secure middle course between Scylla and Charybdis, between the leaden interpretations that were all too common at one time and the whizz-kid treatment. There are, however, some performances here which don’t quite come off - parts of No.3 are a bit lumpen, for example, almost harking back to the stodgy articulation of Karl Münchinger’s mono recordings for Decca which we all thought so marvellous when they were reissued on Ace of Clubs. Our eyes have since been opened. That performance ends CD1 on a less than happy note but my spirits rose considerably at the start of CD2 with a sprightly performance of No.4 for which the (unnamed) recorder player deserves at least a good part of the praise.
The recording is very good throughout, with the harpsichord just audible; there are times when I would have liked a little less of it and others when I’d have liked to have heard it a little more prominently; both comments apply in No.5 for example.
You can judge Rilling’s Brandenburgs for yourself on YouTube: Concerto No.1 here; Concerto No.2 here. If you have access to the Naxos Music Library, you check them out more fully there - but don’t be tempted by the button that takes you to the download, as that will cost you more than the reissued CD set.
On the whole this reissue is well worth considering but you could do at least as well for less money with the Marriner and Britten recordings to which I’ve referred.
Brian Wilson 

Masterwork Index: Brandenburg concertos

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