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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750) 
Brandenburg Concertos 1-6 BWV1046-1051 (1708-21) 
Soloists and Chamber Orchestra of Basel/Paul Sacher
rec. March-April 1954, Konservatorium, Vienna
FORGOTTEN RECORDS FR863-4 [49:08 + 57:45]  

At a time when there is a surfeit of period instrument recordings of the Brandenburg Concertos, it is good occasionally to revisit the past and reacquaint oneself with some of the fine traversals of the 78 and LP eras. Forgotten Records have issued several notable sets under the direction of such musicians as Hermann Scherchen (1954), Wilhelm Schüchter (1954-4), Boyd Neel (1956) and Thurston Dart (1958-9). These have all been reviewed on MusicWeb International.
 
This latest offering comes from the Swiss conductor Paul Sacher (1906-1999), who founded the ensemble featured here in 1926. It went on to perform until 1987. My previous encounters with Sacher have always been in recordings of contemporary 20th century music, so I was very interested to hear his take on some earlier music. Indeed he commissioned many contemporary works from such composers as Bartók, Hindemith, Krenek, Martinů and Stravinsky, just to name a few. I have just recently finished an excellent biography of Sacher entitled ‘Symphony of Dreams’ by Lesley Stephenson, which should be read by anyone with an interest in this conductor.
 
So what of the performances? Well, I was very impressed by the contributions from the soloists. Rodolfo Felicani (violin) appears in several of the concertos and is outstanding especially in the solo parts of the fourth and fifth concertos. I particularly liked the way he blends with the two flutes (Joseph Bopp and Hugo Hadelmann), in Concerto no. 4. It is a pity that the harpsichord continuo in this work is too forwardly placed in the balance with the player, who is not named, appearing a little heavy-handed, his contribution lacking in expression.

I would also single out Concerto no. 5. The soloists Bopp and Felicani, joined by Eduard Muller on the harpsichord, are first class and deliver a compelling version. The beautiful expressive playing of the violin in the second movement and the sensitive dialogue between all three instruments in the third movement, make this something well worth hearing.
 
My only disappointment is the third concerto which sounds a little four-square and pedantic. I have always favoured one-to-a-part in this work, as in Menuhin’s 1959 Bath Festival recording.
 
Sacher’s tempi, dynamics and phrasing are ideal in the main. The mono sound is excellent for its age, the recordings having been digitally re-masterd from LP. There are no booklet notes, as is usual with this label. As a long-standing devotee of these works, this cycle will sit alongside my Busch and Menuhin sets, as being ones that I will return to often.
 
Stephen Greenbank    

Masterwork Index: Brandenburg concertos


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