Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Concerto for Two Violins in D minor, BWV 1043 (1717-1723) [14:37]
Violin Concerto in E major, BWV 1042 (1720?) [15:04]
Invention in C major, BWV 772 (1723) [1:18]
Violin Concerto in A minor, BWV 1041 (1720?) [13:25]
Alfred SCHNITTKE (1934-1998)
Concerto Grosso No. 3 (1985) [22:19]
Johann Sebastian BACH

Invention in F major, BWV 779 (1723) [1:00]
Deborah Nemtanu (violin, viola); Sarah Nemtanu (violin)
Orchestre de chambre de Paris/Sascha Goetzel
rec. Salle Colonne, Paris, France, 2014
NAÏVE V5383 [68:00]
There have been a multitude of recordings of the Bach violin concertos, but none to my knowledge that also contained Schnittke’s Concerto Grosso No. 3. This disc is also unique in its pairing of two sisters playing these works. Sarah and Deborah Nemtanu clearly know their way around these concertos and are well matched in the D minor work. My standard for these particular masterpieces has been the period instrument recording by Andrew Manze and Rachel Podger with the Academy of Ancient Music on Harmonia Mundi. Although the Nemtanus and Orchestre de chambre de Paris under Sascha Goetzel use modern instruments and play at standard pitch, they have apparently learned a great deal from historically informed practice in their pacing and discreet use of vibrato. Overall, I would say the Nemtanus seem more relaxed than Manze/Podger and warmer in their approach to the Double Concerto. Deborah Nemtanu, who plays the second part, has a viola-like tone in her lower register that is really quite lovely.

For the solo concertos I compared the Nemtanus with both the period Manze performance and the “modern” one from Anne-Sophie Mutter with the Trondheim Soloists on a DG disc that also contains her authoritative account of Gubaidulina’s In tempus praesens. What I found was rather unexpected, particularly in the A minor Concerto. There Mutter seems closer to Manze, except for the difference in pitch, while Deborah Nemtanu is heavier and more deliberate in her interpretation. Mutter, in fact, is very stylish and refines her tone to suit the Baroque nature of the work. Only in the slow movement is Nemtanu slightly faster than the others. She plays very sensitively here with little, but occasional, vibrato and she has a rich, dark tone that is beautiful. On the other hand, Mutter is much more traditional in the E major work and plays with a fuller tone than the others. Her second movement Adagio e sempre piano is really too slow and becomes tiresome as compared to Sarah Nemtanu. Nemtanu shaves almost two minutes off Mutter’s timing, while Manze is more than a minute faster than Mutter. In the last movement Mutter is light and breezy, quite the opposite of her approach to the other movements. Both Nemtanu and Manze are stylish in their respective accounts of the E major Concerto. Nemtanu’s tone in the first movement is light and sweet and she brings out the dance-like character better than Manze. In the slow movement it is very much a draw, but in the finale Nemtanu sounds rushed and heavier next to Manze and Mutter even though the three timings almost identical. The four violinists bring something individual to these concertos and technically they are all above cavil.

The two little Inventions add a nice touch to the programme and the Nemtanu sisters balance each other very well. What makes this disc especially valuable, though, is the inclusion of Alfred Schnittke’s Concerto Grosso No. 3 for two violins, harpsichord and strings. The title may seem a bit misleading in that the work also contains parts for piano, celesta and tubular bells. The solo violins play a prominent role throughout the work, but it is indeed a concerto grosso and not a solo concerto. It is an appropriate disc-mate in that it begins like some off-key Bach concerto for less than a minute before hitting a loud, dissonant chord, after which it winds down to the very depths of the orchestra. This is Schnittke, the polystylist, at work. The second movement contains Bachian rhythms until it turns wild with the string themes accompanied by piano chords. Here it reminded me of Ligeti. After these “manic” movements, the concerto becomes rather “depressive.” The third movement, marked Pesante, is mysterious and sad. The mood of mystery continues in the fourth movement with its particularly prominent solo violins until it reaches a scream of anguish. The last movement is also mysterious, but calmer. The celesta has a significant role, sounding especially ethereal against pizzicato and bowed strings. The movement continues with pizzicato strings that sound like some celestial clock and ends with a harpsichord cluster. This was my first exposure to the concerto and I was quite taken by it. As its recorded competition is very slim, it is good to have a new account of it and one that is well performed by the Nemtanus and Orchestre de chamber de Paris.

For the Bach concertos, this disc does not sway my allegiance from Manze’s CD. I also have affection for Mutter’s account of the A minor Concerto. Nevertheless, these are attractive performances, and the addition of the Schnittke makes this new CD quite a draw.

Leslie Wright

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