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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Concerto in A minor for violin, BWV 1041 [12:07]
Concerto in E major for violin, BWV 1042 [15:43]
Concerto in D minor for two violins, BWV 1043 [14:46]
Concerto in C minor for violin and oboe, BWV 1060R [12:26]
Fredrik From (violin, BWV 1041, 1042)
Peter Spissky (violin 1) and Bjarte Eike (violin 2, BWV 1043)
Manfredo Kraemer (violin) and Antoine Torunczyk (oboe).
Concerto Copenhagen/Lars Ulrik Mortensen
rec. 2011, Garnisons Kirke, Copenhagen
CPO 777 904-2 [55:10]

I last looked at a version of exactly this programme on a Pentatone release with the Concertgebouw Chamber Orchestra (see review). It also arrives on a shelf which has recently been occupied by the Nemtanu sisters in their recording for Nave (see review). Vesko Eschkenazy on Pentatone is very nice, but more romantically inclined than many these days. The Nemtanu sisters are a delight, as is Julia Fischer on Decca (see review). There are so many recordings of these works around now, both ‘classic’ and new, that it would be the easiest thing to ask ‘why more?’ and avoid new releases like the plague. That, in this instance, would be a real injustice. I wasn’t really expecting to learn new things through this recording, but have to admit to being deeply impressed.

Concerto Copenhagen is set up to provide a punchy accompaniment, as much light as superbly accented and with a lovely deep bass, spicy bassoon and crisp harpsichord all adding to energetic but well phrased strings. Soloist Fredrik From plays with tremendous expression through dynamics and a cleanly detailed sense of line within authentic – largely vibrato-less playing. These performances bring out Vivaldi/Corelli Italianate qualities in these concertos which you might not have noticed elsewhere. The bassoon has the effect of pointing out the lively activity going on in the lower lines, a feature with melodic strengths all too often neglected. Even if, like me, you have heard these pieces dozens of times before, you will be made to stop and pay attention as if they were new pieces. Those developmental passages of counterpoint for instance 2:15 into the first movement of BWV 1042, painted with watercolour transparency but emerging as if from one of Bach’s religious cantatas rather than a secular concerto. There are plenty of moments like this which made me listen anew, and when returning for more remain a pleasure and an inspiration.

The same goes for the Concerto for two violins in D minor BWV 1043. This is a big favourite for many Bach fans, and once again there are just too many alternative recordings to name. It’s easy enough to become wrapped up in any particular performance and extol its virtues based as much on the music and the moment rather than the specific nature of a performance, but this is a very good one. Peter Spissky and Bjarte Eike make a good team, though there are a couple of moments in the opening Vivace where the notes are less well defined than is ideal. This is a minor point however, and the second movement Largo ma non tanto moves along nicely without lingering too lovingly over the expressive sustained notes. You will have to be a fan of vibrato-less violin here as well, but to my ears this performance, with its balance between confiding conversation and subtly ornamented stage-presence projection, has much to commend it.

The Concerto for violin and oboe BWV 1060 is distinctive in the sound of Antoine Torunczyk’s baroque oboe, which has a more vocal ‘quack’ than a modern instrument. Manfredo Kraemer’s violin is if anything too self-effacing a counterfoil to the oboe, though his vibrato is an interesting contrast to the previous concertos, and both soloists are equal to the task of receding into the orchestral texture and rising above it as the music demands. Listening through my most expensive headphones it sounds as if the oboe soloist is more distant than the strings of the accompanying ensemble. There are a couple of quirky rhythmic ‘lifts’ which point out the calling nature of the oboe in the first movement, and the bassoon is once again a great asset in the final Allegro, though the central Adagio is arguably a little to swift and perfunctory for my taste.

These are performances with an emphasis more on rhythm than lyricism, while still providing cleanly expressive lines and satisfying contrasts of atmosphere between movements. I love Concerto Copenhagen’s sonorities, and the recording is very fine indeed. If you are on the lookout for ‘authentic’ Bach violin concertos then this will be well worth considering.

Dominy Clements

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