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Johann Sebastian BACH(1685-1750) Brandenburg Concertos (c.1721)
Concerto No.1 in F major, BWV 1046 [23:02]
Concerto No.2 in F major, BWV 1047 [12:33]
Concerto No.3 in G major, BWV1048 [13:55]
Concerto No.4 in G major, BWV 1049 [17:29]
Concerto No.5 in D major, BWV1050 [21:22]
Concerto No.6 in B flat major, BWV 1051 [18:01]
Hamburg Chamber Orchestra/Harry Newstone
rec. Hamburg, 1959 HERITAGE HTGCD195/6 [49:30 + 56:52]
As Tully Potter outlines in his notes, the Brandenburg Concertos have fared well and often on disc from the days of 78s onwards. Early highpoints include the set by Adolf Busch’s Chamber Players in 1935 and the two cycles by Boyd Neel, of which the one from 1956 (see review) is probably the better known. Fine recordings continued to be made from that point, along with a fair few duds, and certainly one of the very best was this set from Harry Newstone (1921-2006) and the Hamburg Chamber Orchestra, a compound of players from the Philharmonic State and the North German Radio Symphony Orchestras. The mono Saga LP was released in 1959 and the stereo in 1965.
Over the coming decades performances by historically informed bands came to dominate recordings and concert halls and inevitably those by Neel and Newstone and their many confreres were largely relegated to the memory. So, it’s good news that Heritage has selected this set for reissue, with fine vinyl transfers by John Whitmore and digital restoration courtesy of Curt Timmons.
The recordings stand up to scrutiny very well. This is buoyant and resilient playing with excellent solo contributions from a raft of distinguished players. The orchestra’s leader, Friedrich Wührer Junior, son of the pianist, plays the violin piccolo in the First concerto with dash and panache. The trumpeter, emulating the great George Eskdale for Busch, is Adolf Scherbaum and his playing throughout - but most obviously in No. 2, utilizing a clarion in B flat - is both inspired and inspiring; technical accomplishment allied to an apt sense of style. Both he and Wührer died in 2000. A point to note; instead of a brief linking passage between the outer movements of No.3, Newstone interpolates the Sarabande from the English Suite No.5 played by harpsichordist Karl Grebe. In one sense, given he’s done the entire preparatory continuo work, it’s a shame that Grebe is supplanted by Waldemar Döhling for the virtuosic fire of the Fifth Concerto.
This cycle has a healthy and communicative approach to the repertoire. There is clarity without any undue forensic detailing, phrasing is natural-sounding and so too the tempi. It’s instructive to hear the sonorous two viola da gamba players Hans Roder and Erwin Grutzbach in the Sixth Concerto and to be able to savour the manifold beauties of this concerto’s slow movement.
Newstone was an important figure of the time and he has retained a niche place in collectors’ hearts. Discs like this twofer explain why that is.