Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Concerto in D minor for two violins BWV 1043 [14:44]
Concerto in A minor for violin BWV 1041 [14:15]
Concerto in E major for violin BWV 1042 [17:09]
Concerto in c minor for violin and oboe BWV 1060 [13:33]
Vesko Eschkenazy (violin)
Tjeerd Top (violin, BWV 1043)
Alexei Ogrintchouk (oboe, BWV 1060)
Concertgebouw Chamber Orchestra
rec. 1-4 May 2012, Doopsgezinde Kerk, Haarlem, The Netherlands
PENTATONE PTC5186460 SACD [60:16]
Bulgarian violinist Vesko Eschkenazy is one of the very good guys of the classical music world and much loved in The Netherlands, from where I am currently writing my reviews. The team of performers brought together for this Pentatone recording is highly promising, with support from leading soloist Tjeerd Top in the Double Concerto, someone I remember from his time as a student at the Royal Conservatoire in The Hague, and oboist Alexei Ogrintchouk who now teaches there, as well as having increasing numbers of distinguished recordings under his belt, including more Bach from BIS (see review).
There is very little to criticise here, and these are all very fine performances. The sound is pretty crisp supporting an historically informed approach with brisk tempi, a discretely balanced harpsichord helping things along and admirable transparency of texture and articulation. Perhaps the orchestral sound could be a little better defined, with the strings behind the soloists sounding a bit generalised even in SACD mode, but this is a minor point. Brisk tempi means we don’t have the same kind of profundity in the beautiful Largo, ma non tanto second movement of the Double Concerto, but we’ve moved on from the kinds of romantic atmosphere beloved of David and Igor Oistrakh. This is a kind of mixture between worlds, with fairly rich vibrato in the solo lines to go along with the early-music flavour of the general approach. Comparing with Monica Huggett and Alison Bury with Ton Koopman on the Erato label shows very similar timings but a far lighter, chamber-music sonority and a reluctance to play with legato lines. Tighter rhythms and a livelier sonic picture can be found on the BIS label, where Masaaki Suzuki’s Bach Collegium Japan make a superb job of these concertos on BIS-CD-961, showing how the orchestra can play a more pro-active role while almost turning the soloists into consort members rather than giving them their more usual prominence.
So much of what will turn you on in such recordings is a question of taste, and to my ears there is nothing which offends in this Pentatone Bach recording. BWV 1043 doesn’t quite bring a tear to the eye as it can do with some versions, but I still like it a great deal. The solo violin concertos BWV 1041 and BWV 1042 move along decently, though the rhythms might have been a bit more bouncy in the outer movements. The first movement of BWV 1041 for instance, has an intensely narrative feel which Suzuki obtains in his BIS recording, but which is a touch soggy here - a sensation which comes from that rather generalised backing to the soloist. Timings are a little longer, but not in any extreme way. I love Eschkenazy’s restraint in the Andante of BWV 1041, and his gorgeously humane solo lines are ultimately the main selling point of this particular set.
The final D minor concerto BWV 1060, the one reconstructed from a C minor concerto for two harpsichords works well in this recording, with Ogrintchouk’s rich oboe tone mixing very nicely with the strings and Eschkenazy’s partnering solo, brought down a little in the balance to combine on an equal footing and keep a realistic balance with the orchestra.
To conclude, this is a highly desirable recording of the Bach violin concertos, but alas won’t become my all-time favourite. I enjoy the period sound and all of the solo playing, but the somewhat anonymous orchestral backing detracts a little from the overall effect. It’s a different prospect, but Masaaki Suzuki’s more inclusive ensemble is more satisfying to my ears, though admittedly fitting less into conventional expectations of the ‘concerto’ format. In the end, there is no real problem with this recording other than that there are so many others jostling for our attention. The SACD aspect is an attraction, but doesn’t solve that mildly beige orchestral tapestry which prevents me from making this a list of purely admiring superlatives.
Very good indeed, but only one of so many.
Masterwork Index: Bach violin concertos
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