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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Violin Concerto No.1 in A minor, BWV1041 [13:50]
Harpsichord Concerto No.2 in E, BWV1053 (arr. K. Debretzeni for violin and orchestra, world premiere recording) [18:37]
Violin Concerto No.2 in E, BWV1042 [16:06]
Harpsichord Concerto No.1 in d minor, BWV1052 (arr. W. Fischer for violin and orchestra) [21:37]
Kati Debretzeni (violin)
The English Baroque Soloists/Sir John Eliot Gardiner
rec. 2018, St Jude-on-the-Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb, London

It was with edgy excitement that I started listening to this CD. John Eliot Gardiner is one of my favourite artists and I’ve enjoyed his recordings, as well as an unforgettable live Prom from a few years ago. His Bach passions and sacred works (DG) have been among my “go to” sets and I purchased his cantata set, partly due to the very positive reviews on this site.

My anticipation was fully rewarded by this magnificent collection of the well known and the more obscure Bach. Although historically informed practice is employed, these are just really good recordings; among the best I’ve heard. Like Brian Wilson, I’m an admirer of David Oistrakh (DG and Alto) and somewhat to my surprise there were far more similarities than differences in Debretzeni’s execution of the two original violin concertos. I much preferred both of them to Rachel Podger (Challenge Classics; also Harmonia Mundi), who sounded somewhat disassociated.
BVW 1041 is very well-known; its slow movement was used to telling effect in the film “Truly Madly Deeply”. Kati Debretzeni plays the work with great feeling and a tenderness that I had not expected from an HIP adherent. The finale goes very well with flourishes that remind us of the influence Vivaldi had on Bach; the latter transcribed the Concerto for 4 Violins.
The Harpsichord Concerto No.2, BWV1053 is heard here in an edition receiving its world premiere. The first movement starts with gusto and recalls some of the tenor arias in the cantatas. The transcription seems to me slightly less successful as, despite fine enthusiastic playing by all, the movements become slightly repetitive and outstay their welcome. It would have been good to have had the wonderful Double Concerto instead. The excellent notes by Kati Debretzeni go into detail about the transcription and there’s no doubt it has been achieved with skill even if it isn’t of the class of the two authentic concertos or the final arrangement.

With the Second Violin Concerto BWV1042 we return to familiar ground and the performance is a delight from start to finish. In the past, I found that the tone of the period violin tended towards acidity but that’s certainly not the case here.

BWV1052 works very well as a violin concerto; the first movement has the intricacies of its harpsichord origins intact without any problem in the migration to violin. There’s a sense of “conversation” between the soloist and the ensemble throughout and no more so than in the Adagio. With a spirited rendition of the Allegro, this most agreeable disc comes to a suitably brilliant close.

This CD has been a sheer joy to listen to and I will certainly return to it. I look forward to exploring more recordings by Kati Debretzeni and, as usual, praise is due to John Eliot Gardiner and his excellent ensemble.
David R Dunsmore

Previous review: Brian Wilson