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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Harpsichord concertos transcribed for mandolin
Concerto BWV 1052 [22:36]
Concerto BWV 1055 [13:34]
Concerto BWV 1059 [12:09]
Concerto BWV 1060 [12:38]
Davide Ferella (mandolin)
Dorina Frati (mandolin II, BWV 1060)
Profil Barocchi
rec. 2017, Sala Musicale Giardino, Crema, Italy
DYNAMIC CDS7821 [61:01]

Bach’s music is renowned for sounding good on an almost infinite variety of instruments, and the stretch between harpsichord and mandolin is not so huge, given that they share plucked string sonorities. Bach’s harpsichord concertos are argued to be transcriptions in the first place, and with mandolin concerto composer Vivaldi being one of these sources, then the seeds of controversy need not be all too fertile.

The mandolin is a smaller and softer sounding instrument than the harpsichord, and Profil Barocchi’s single-instrument to a part setting is as pared-down as you can have so as not to overpower the mandolin. The sounds of soloist and ensemble should blend with many passages in this music, and the balance here is decent enough. The mandolin does recede into the instrumental texture, but we don’t have the feel that this is an unequal struggle, more an amicable symbiosis. What we do miss is much in the way of sustain in the sound, so that in lyrical slow movements such as the Adagio of BWV 1052 the bulk of the melodic line is left to the imagination of the listener. This is less of an issue in the Largo of BWV 1059 where the strings play pizzicato, allowing the notes of the mandolin to sing out more.

Davide Ferella’s transcriptions sometimes use the strings to take on notes that would have been in the harpsichord part, so that we don’t miss out on essential musical elements. The mandolins used for this recording are the usual Neapolitan type, that has four courses of double strings. These are well enough matched in the double concerto BWV 1060, which has some fine virtuoso moments though intonation can sound a little tricky at times in the first movement.

If you know and love these concertos with harpsichord then I suspect you may struggle a little to love these mandolin versions with quite the same warmth. The thinness of a solo sound that only really functions in the upper register can be a bit wearing after a while, and the expressive depth of the music is never really plumbed in this recording. The recording quality is fair, but has a mildly unpleasant compressed quality which pops out from time to time, such as around 1 minute into the last movement of BWV 1060.

In the end, what we have here is Bach exported from Germany and given a distinctly Mediterranean feel. Pick out a nice bottle of wine from Campania to go along with your Spaghetti alle vongole and put this on to complete the picture and you’ll have the best of worlds both north and south.

Dominy Clements

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