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Bach Meets Vivaldi
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Concerto for Two Violins in D minor, BWV1043 [14:15]
Violin Concerto in A minor, BWV1041 [13:22]
Violin Concerto in E, BWV 1042 [15:52]
Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Concerto in B minor, RV580 [8:36]
Concerto in D minor, RV565 [8:39]
Concerto in G minor, RV157 [5:37]
Julia Schröder (violin), Lautten Compagney Berlin
rec. live, 26 May 2017, Maulbronn Monastery, Germany
K&K KuK129 [67:00]

The three Bach violin concertos are presented here in a live concert recorded in the wallowing acoustic of the UNESCO World Heritage Maulbronn Monastery alongside three Vivaldi works. The connection between the Bach Double Violin Concerto and Vivaldi’s D minor concerto also for two violins is obvious, while Bach made transcriptions for keyboard of both this concerto and Vivaldi’s RV580 concerto. I am not so sure what the relevance to this programme is of the third Vivaldi Concerto on the disc, but that does not matter. These are exceptionally distinguished performances, bristling with individuality and character, while the recording, rather obscured by the very cloudy acoustic, has bags of atmosphere and creates a sense of “being there” that many strive for but few achieve with quite such success. We can find plenty of other recordings of this repertory where the recorded detail is so close that even the soloists’ breathing is captured in vivid sound; so there is room in the market for one like this where such brightly lit intimacy is sacrificed for pure sumptuousness of sound. For simple listening pleasure, I recommend this disc unreservedly.

Beyond the acoustic, the first thing to note about these performances is the lack of a distinct solo presence. Even in the solo concertos, Julia Schröder blends into the ensemble so well that she creates more a sense of emerging from it than flying above it. This is particularly noteworthy in the A minor Concerto where she seems almost to lean out of the ensemble as it goes round the musical corners, offering up a nicely turned phrase or two, and is soon enveloped back again by the surrounding musicians. It is even more rewarding in the two concertos in which she is paired up as soloist with Birgit Schnurpfeil. I particularly like the enormous freedom of movement both soloists exude at the opening of the Vivaldi D minor concerto, serving as a kind of introduction to the rest of the ensemble, who then take off with remarkable agility, producing a tremendously exciting and effervescent performance. It all sounds far more like truly democratic chamber playing than soloist and orchestra in combination. Given the emphasis the Lautten Compagney Berlin places on authentic delivery of this music – from playing styles to the instruments themselves – this approach results in performances which combine sonic attractiveness with impressive feelings of authenticity.

The B minor Vivaldi concerto is no.10 from the set published as L’estro Armonico scored for four violins, two violas and continuo. The perky and energetic chattering between the four violins is beautifully delivered here in a performance of real vitality, the solid presence of the continuo (including a contrabass, cello and lute) providing an almost physical kick to propel it all along. Echo effects are subtly handled so that they do not interrupt the surging momentum of the music. The central movement includes a fabulous piece of what can best be described as collective rustling – the ensemble giving a kind of alternative to Vivaldi’s Autumn with its effect curiously akin to the rustling of dry leaves. Pounding rhythms and much busy movement from the violins concludes the Concerto as it began – full of vigour and impetuous wit.

The way the Lautten Compagney play the first movement of RV157, one might almost suspect the influence of Purcell. They make much of the recurring bass line and the dance-like properties of the melodic line, and produce an absolutely gorgeous descent into pizzicato at the end of the first movement. Similarly, one is reminded of Purcell with the interweaving lines of the slow movement, although the pervasive dotted rhythms remind us more of the French style. If they are keen to demonstrate Bachian relationships with this work it is in the rhythmically propulsive concluding movement with its hints of contrapuntal writing between the violins and the bass. For all the music’s brevity and lack of real invention, this is a performance which elevates the work through a brilliant display of collective virtuosity and a matchless exhibition of unbounded energy.

It is worth pointing out to those purchasing the CD that the booklet gives no real information other than lots of action pictures and the usual blandly irrelevant artist biographies, making aspirational statements which probably interest nobody other than the artists themselves. The German-only essay on the music is feeble enough, but if you access the K&K website, you will find edited highlights of the English-language Wikipedia entries on each piece; a shameful and patronising bit of work which is made all the more appalling by its association with music making of such supreme authority.

Marc Rochester

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