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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Reiner conducts Bach
Brandenburg Concertos 1-6 (ca.1721)
Orchestral Suites 1-4
RCA Victor Orchestra/Fritz Reiner
rec. 1949-52, New York City
ambient stereo
Full track details at end of review
PRISTINE AUDIO PASC425 [3 CDs: 61:24 + 62:47 + 67:20]

I had never associated Fritz Reiner with Bach but this 3 CD set from Pristine certainly changed my mind. As far as I can ascertain, apart from a partial issue of four of the Brandenburg Concertos on Centurion Classics, these recordings have never been transferred to CD. They were available on various Columbia LPs and were indeed the first recordings of this music in that format.

This cycle is in many ways remarkably forward thinking for its era, in that Reiner opted for a smaller, reduced string orchestra of four violins, two violas, two cellos and two double basses. He then had his pick of instrumental soloists active in New York, hence the quality of playing is very high indeed. Reiner was able to call upon the services of distinguished musicians such as flute virtuoso Julius Baker and William Vacchiano, first trumpet with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra for nearly thirty years and presumably here playing a B flat piccolo trumpet in the Brandenburg No. 2.

There is a high degree of clarity in the individual musical lines such that their contrapuntal complexity emerges cleanly. In these circumstances it is understandable that some critics of the time found these performances to be slightly mechanical and impersonal and some tempi seem decidedly brisk, challenging the dexterity of the soloists. Modern ears are unlikely to share that view, although they may, on the other hand smile at the little Romantic touches such as the “Mantovani slides” in the famous "Air on a G string" and the touches of portamento here and there. Personally, I don’t mind them at all. I am more bothered by the somewhat ponderous tempi for the second and fourth Overture, although there is considerable compensation in their majestic stateliness and the virtuosity of the playing.

The Overtures are in general more leisurely than the Brandenburg Concertos but that suits their grandeur. They are more public and demonstrative in utterance, whereas the Brandenburgs are more intimate, personal and even playful. Indeed, the crispness, fluency and delicacy of BWV 1048, for example, are a delight; sample the spring and lift of the presto finale.

The sound is superb for its vintage now that Pristine have applied their re-mastering and Ambient Stereo techniques. There is virtually no hiss and plenty of space around the instruments. I thoroughly enjoyed all three discs.
 
Ralph Moore

Full track details

CD 1:
Brandenburg Concerto No.1 in F major, BWV 1046 [22:37]
Hugo Kolberg (solo violin); Weldon Wilbur (solo horn); Robert Bloom (solo oboe)
rec. 28 October 1949
Brandenburg Concerto No.2 in F major, BWV 1047 [12:55]
William Vacchiano (trumpet); Felix Eyle (solo violin); Julius Baker (flute); Robert Bloom (oboe)
rec. 2 December 1949
Brandenburg Concerto No.3 in G major, BWV1048 [10:15]
rec. 26 October 1949
Brandenburg Concerto No.4 in G major, BWV 1049 [15:37]
Hugo Kolberg (violin); Julius Baker (flute); Ralph Eichar (flute, tracks 10, 12); Frederick Wilkins (flute, track 11).
rec.21 October 1949
CD 2:
Brandenburg Concerto No.5 in D major, BWV1050 [21:02]
Sylvia Marlowe (harpsichord); Hugo Kolberg (violin); Julius Baker (solo flute)
rec. 3 November 1949
Brandenburg Concerto No.6 in B flat major, BWV 1051 [18:59]
William Lincer, Nicholas Biro (solo violins)
Chamber Group/Fritz Reiner
Columbia 30th Street Studio, New York City
Orchestral Suite No. 1 in C major BWV 1066 for 2 oboes, bassoon, strings and continuo (c1717-23) [26:46]
rec. 14 October 1952
CD 3:
Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B minor BWV 1067 for flute, strings and continuo (late 1730s) [24:34]
Julius Baker (flute)
rec. 30 April 1953
Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D major BWV 1068 for 3 trumpets, timpani, 2 oboes, strings and continuo (c1729-31) [21:13]
rec. 8 October 1952
Orchestral Suite No. 4 in D major BWV 1069 for 3 oboes, bassoon, strings and continuo (c1717-23) [21:33]
rec. 23 October 1952