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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685 - 1750)
Concerto for three violins, strings and bc in d minor (BWV 1063) [13:49]
Concerto for violin, strings and bc in a minor (BWV 1041) [13:15]
Concerto for violin, strings and bc in E (BWV 1042) [16:45]
Concerto for two violins, strings and bc in d minor (BWV 1043) [14:27]
Concerto for three violins, strings and bc in D (BWV 1064R) [16:50]
Monica Huggett, Carla Moore, Jolianne Einem, Rob Diggins, Adam LaMotte (violins)
Portland Baroque Orchestra/Monica Huggett
rec. 7-11 October 2013, St Anne's Chapel, Marylhurst University, Marylhurst, OR, USA. DDD

For a long time Bach's oeuvre for solo violin(s) and strings was confined to the three concertos which have the numbers BWV 1041-1043. However, it was generally assumed that his harpsichord concertos were arrangements of concertos which were first written for other instruments: the violin, the oboe or the oboe d'amore. Only in one case have both the original and the arrangement been preserved: the Concerto for two harpsichords in C minor (BWV 1062) is a reworking of the Concerto for two violins in d minor (BWV 1043). Several attempts have been made to reconstruct other concertos and these are available in various recordings.

The present disc includes two reconstructions, both of which are only known in a scoring for three harpsichords. The best-known of these is the Concerto in D (BWV 1064R) which today is part of the standard repertoire of baroque orchestras. Some readers may have one or various recordings in their collection, for instance by the Freiburger Barockorchester (Harmonia mundi, 2013). If they listen to the performance by the Portland Baroque Orchestra - or rather members of it - they will notice quite a few differences. This version is a 'pasticcio' of various reconstructions, and one of the main differences is that here the ripieno parts have been omitted. If you know this concerto it will probably take time to get used to this version.

The Concerto in d minor (BWV 1063) is far less common in a version for three violins. I don't know whether it has been recorded before in a reconstruction of what may have been the original scoring. There are some differences of opinion about what that original scoring might have been. Jude Ziliak, in the liner-notes, states that "[the] three solo parts are both unequal in prominence and differing in figuration, which might indicate that they were written for unequal instruments". Christopher Hogwood made a reconstruction for violin, flute and oboe, by analogy with a concerto by Johann David Heinichen. I don't know if that has ever been recorded; certainly I haven't heard it. This was also the first time that I heard this concerto for other instruments than three harpsichords, and so far I am not really convinced by the results. Maybe it is just something one has to get used to, but I had other experiences with the concerto BWV 1064 which sounded very natural to me when I heard it for the first time.

The other concertos here are very familiar and available in many recordings. I am not sure whether these performances are a really great addition to the discography. The Portland Baroque Orchestra is a fine ensemble and the soloists are excellent musicians in their own right. However, it was only the Concerto in E (BWV 1042) which really satisfied me. In others I found the sound rather unpleasantly sharp, especially in the Concerto in a minor, but the same goes for the above-mentioned reconstruction of BWV 1063. The Concerto in d minor (BWV 1043) is only slightly better; here I would have preferred a clearer articulation in the solo parts in the largo ma non tanto and a stronger differentiation between good and bad notes.

The fact that I don't like the sound of the ensemble is probably partly due to the recording. The acoustic is pretty dry, and there is hardly any reverberation. The miking seems also a bit too close.

All in all, this disc is more interesting from a historical point of view than musically satisfying.

Johan van Veen

Previous review: Michael Cookson



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