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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Concerto for oboe, violin and strings, BWV1060R [12:59]
Violin Concerto No.2 in E, BWV1042 [15:52]
Cantata BWV21 Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis: Sinfonia [2:41]
Violin Concerto No.1 in a minor, BWV1041 [13:26]
Concerto for two violins in d minor, BWV1043 [14:31]
Cecilia Bernardini (violin), with Alfredo Bernardini (oboe, BWV1060R)
and Huw Daniel (violin, BWV1043)
Dunedin Consort/John Butt
rec. Greyfriars Kirk, Edinburgh, 17-20 November 2014. DDD/DSD LINN CKD519 [59:29]
‘Bach Violin Concertos’ can mean many different things:
in this case the two solo concertos and the double with the reconstructed
violin-and-oboe version of BWV1060. That’s a very different programme
than, for example, on Alina Ibragimova’s recent recording with Arcangelo
for Hyperion of the two conventional solo concertos plus plausible reconstructions
of BWV1052, 1055 and 1056 (CDA68068 – review).
The Hyperion gives a slightly more generous coupling than the new Linn
recording but it leaves you without the Double Concerto. The Linn programme
is more conventional: the classic Arthur Grumiaux recording, with Herman
Krebbers in the Double Concerto and Heinz Holliger on BWV1060R, still
a clear recommendation among modern-instrument versions, offers exactly
the same programme. (Decca 4207002, mid-price).
Among outstanding period-instrument versions Masaaki Suzuki, with soloists
and the Bach Collegium of Japan also offers the same combination on
a very fine recording (BIS-CD-961).
Cecilia Bernardini may be less famous than Alina Ibragimova. She’s
the leader of the Dunedin Consort and leads and directs other modern-
and period-instrument groups, rather than a well-known soloist, but
that’s not necessarily a disadvantage in performing the Bach concertos
where the violinist is more a first among equals than a showy virtuoso.
I very much enjoyed hearing her contribution to this recording and
I need hardly add that she receives first-rate support from John Butt
and the other members of the Consort.
For a comparative version of BWV1041 I listened to the Grumiaux recording.
Surprisingly for a modern-instrument version first released on LP in
1978 there’s little to choose in terms of tempo and, more importantly,
overall impression and communication between that and the new Linn recording.
Perhaps that’s partly due to the fact that another violinist, Arpad
Gerecz, was directing and that the Solistes Romands, otherwise unrepresented
in the current catalogue, rose to the occasion. The sound is a little
shrill – no match for the Linn – but otherwise it’s a credit to Bernardini
and her supporters that she offers, if not quite a modern classic to
sit beside the Grumiaux, something just as stylish.
The opening movement of BWV1060R starts in sprightly fashion without
sounding breakneck: if anything both it and the adagio are taken
slightly more steadily than on most recent recordings, such as Lars
Ulrik Mortensen with Concerto Copenhagen (CPO). The first movement
is almost as slow as and the adagio slightly slower than the
now classic Teldec recording which forms part of the USB complete Bach
Edition (2564661127: Recording of the Month – review),
still available and good value at around £165 for the equivalent of
over 150 CDs. Things have moved on since that older recording, one
of the earliest on period instruments, was made and, good as it is and
only seconds slower, it sounds a little four-square by comparison with
the Edinburgh team. Alfredo Bernardini in the oboe part also contributes
in no small way to the success of the new performance.
The 1973 Teldec recording features Alice Harnoncourt as the violin soloist,
with Jürg Schaeftlein (oboe), Walter Pfeiffer as second violinist in
the Double Concerto and the Concentus Musicus directed by Nikolaus Harnoncourt.
The slight squareness of the opening of BWV1060R is compensated for
by a brisk but affectionate account of the slow movement but the finale
again shows signs of the Harnoncourt manner in a jaunty but slightly
over-emphatic performance. I know that many listeners dislike that
manner but for me it’s a more than acceptable way of performing these
concertos. I still turn with enjoyment to these performances of BWV1041-3,
though I can see why many are unable to take the heavy ‘bulges’ in the
reconstructed BWV1056R which completes the programme.
Walter Pfeiffer is a very worthwhile second soloist on Teldec but Huw
Daniel also gives a very fine performance on the new recording. The
classic account of the Double Concerto came from the Oistrakhs, father
and son on DG, still available on Originals 4474272 (2 CDs), Regis RRC1408
– and even on vinyl (DG 4795117). Their rapport is something very special
but Bernardini and Daniel are hardly far behind.
On BIS, with Natsumi Wakamatsu supporting Ryo Terakado in the Double
Concerto, the opening of the first movement sounds a little hurried
at first but the pace soon settles down, though overall the tempo is
a little faster than on Linn. The second movement on BIS is a shade
slow – leaning more to the largo marking than to the ma non
tanto qualification. I can’t complain when the result is so beautiful
– more than usual this movement reminds me of the Handel ‘largo’ – but
the new Linn seems to me to strike a more apt pace. Much as I like
the BIS recording, the Dunedin team seem to have the advantage. Alice
Harnoncourt and Walter Pfeiffer stress the largo even more at
7:06 (BIS 6:44; Linn 6:18).
If I say that Butt’s way with Bach is far less controversial than Harnoncourt’s,
that should not be taken to mean that these performances are bland.
I’m slightly less bowled over than by his recordings of the Magnificat
and Christmas Cantata (CKD469: Recording of the Month – review
also one of my Recordings of the Year), the b-minor Mass (CKD354 – Download
Roundup July 2010) and the St John Passion (CKD419: Recording of
the Month – review)
but not by much. The only reason why I have not considered this for
Recording of the Month is that it doesn’t cast quite as much new light
on the music as those earlier Linn releases or the new Brilliant Classics
Vivaldi Op.8, a very special performance of The Four Seasons
and the other concertos of Il Cimento dell’armonia e dell’invenzione
(95045, 2 CDs at super-budget price: Recording of the Month – review).
The Teldec recording (last seen on 8.44014) is no longer available separately,
even as a download, but it does point up one shortcoming on the Linn
recording, which runs for less than an hour as against 73 minutes for
the Teldec. That’s why I downloaded the new album in the 16-bit format,
though I could easily have obtained the 24-bit as a review copy. The
16-bit sounds fine and is reasonably priced at £10: £18.00 for the 24-bit
does seem excessive when the equivalent SACD is likely to sell for £13
from Linn, or less from some dealers. On past experience it should
outshine even the 16-bit which I reviewed.
Grumbles about pricing apart, which affect only the download not the
SACD equivalent, this is as good a way as any to get to know these wonderful
concertos and a worthy successor to John Butt’s earlier recordings of
Bach with the Dunedin Consort. To prefer them overall to Masaaki Suzuki
and his team on BIS and to Arthur Grumiaux on Decca, however slightly,
is indeed high praise.