2020
53,454 reviews
and more.. and still writing ...

Search MusicWeb Here

     
  
 

 

International mailing


  Founder: Len Mullenger             Editor in Chief: John Quinn               Contact Seen and Heard here  

Some items
to consider



£11 post-free anywhere
Normal service resumed


TROUBADISC

100th birthday of Mieczyslaw Weinberg on December 8, 2019.
Renate Eggbrecht has recorded all 3 violin Sonatas


 

Recordings of the Month

June


Beethoven String Quartets


Produzioni Armoniche


Seven Symphonic Poems


Shostakovich VC1 Baiba Skride
Tchaikovsky Symph 5 Nelsons


Vivaldi Violin Concertos

 

May


Beethoven Piano Concertos


Stradal Transcriptions


LOSY Note d’oro


Scarlatti Sonatas Vol 2



Support us financially by purchasing this from
 

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Keyboard Concerto No.1 in d minor, BWV1052 [21:12]
Keyboard Concerto No.2 in E, BWV1053 [17:53]
Keyboard Concerto No.7 in g minor, BWV1058 [12:02]
Keyboard Concerto No.4 in A, BWV1055 [12:50]
Francesco Corti (harpsichord)
Il Pomo d’Oro
rec. 2019, Gustav Mahler Hall, Kulturzentrum Toblach
PENTATONE PTC5186837 [64:06]

This is the second fine recording of Bach keyboard concertos to have come my way recently.  It follows fairly hard upon the heels of an Alpha recording of the works for two harpsichords and complements it (ALPHA 572 - Spring 2020/1A).

Let me get an important reservation out of the way first. In another context I recently regretted the steady decline in the number of recording labels issuing SACDs. Until recently, SACD has been the norm for the majority of Pentatone releases; I hope that the fact that this Bach recording is CD only doesn’t mark another label’s full retreat fom SACD. It is still possible for those seeking better than CD quality to obtain most new recordings in 24-bit sound, and that’s on offer here, but at a premium price, in this case around £14 from suppliers who offer CDs and SACDs for less than that. I appreciate that an SACD costs more to produce, with all the layers, but I have yet to understand why 24-bit downloads cost more than 16-bit. Presumably, there’s actually more work involved in converting 24-bit and DSD originals to the lower-quality 16-bit and mp3.

Less seriously, I wonder if prospective buyers would not be happier with a 2-CD set of all the keyboard concertos, such as that offered by Andreas Staier and the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra on Harmonia Mundi HMC902181/82. That’s now download only, but it comes at an attractive price: as little as £11.98 from Presto in 24-bit format. (Remarkably, that’s less expensive than the 16-bit, as I write, but other dealers have 16-bit for as little as £8.39.) The link which I gave to eclassical.com in 2015/8 will be more attractive price-wise for US$ purchasers than for those buying in UK£, but what I wrote there remains relevant: ‘The performances are very fine. If I say that they are not over-assertive, that is not meant as a criticism, nor is my observation that the recording, too, is good without drawing attention to itself’.

On a single disc, the chief competition comes from Fabio Bonizzoni and La Risonanza, who perform Nos. 1, 2, 4 and 5 on a Challenge Classics SACD (CC72773 – review). Those lamenting the issue of the new Pentatone on CD only would be well advised to choose that alternative; very oddly, there seems not to be a 24-bit download.

Having bemoaned the lack of SACD, I should make partial amends by saying that the new Pentatone recording is good. Francesco Corti contributes a short but apposite note to the booklet on such matters as choice of tempo and his decision to vary some of the da capo repeats, calling no less than CPE Bach as one of his witnesses for the practice. There are longer and informative notes on the individual concertos by Jason Snell.

Johan van Veen thought Corti’s accompaniment to Erik Bosgraaf in his recording of the Telemann Recorder Sonatas outstanding (Brilliant Classics 95247 – review). Having played his part there, and in Brandenburg Concerto No.5 with Zefiro and Alfredo Bernardini on their complete set (Arcana A452, with Orchestral Suite No.4) and having directed Pomo d’Oro on Voglio cantar, a CD of arias sung by Emöke Baráth (Erato 9029563221), Corti now makes clear his Bach solo credentials on this Pentatone recording. His contribution to the Brandenburgs may have been minimal, but that’s a set of recordings which I came to enjoy, despite having initially found some of the tempi rather too hectic.

Nor does Corti on these recordings of the keyboard concertos keep the listener hanging around. The finale of No.1 fairly flies past at 7:22, where Staier, no sloth but typically a little more relaxed, takes 8:05, Bonizzoni 7:55, and Angela Hewitt, one of the few pianists whom I like in Bach, 7:50 (Hyperion CDA57307). I suggest that you try listening to that movement, if only via the short snippet that dealers allow you to sample – or ignore the annoying ads and listen to the free Spotify version. Subscribers to Naxos Music Library should be able to hear it there in due course. If it’s just a little too hectic for you, look to one of the other recordings. It works for me – and for my wife who was listening at the same time, and who dislikes over-fast tempi in Bach.

Slow movements, too, tend to be taken quickly. The Siciliano of No.2 may be only a few seconds faster than from Bonizzoni, but the difference is noticeable. The music loses a touch of its emotional power in the process, especially by comparison with Staier, who gives the movement a little more weight, but once again I found myself being convinced by the outcome, as also in the concluding allegro of that concerto, where Corti’s tempo is much closer to the other recordings.

The danger with over-hasty performances of this music is that it sounds not so much like Beecham’s disparaging remarks about copulating skeletons as an old-fashioned treadle-operated Singer sewing machinist desperately working against the clock to complete an order. Fast and unfeeling is against the music; Corti, no sewing machinist, remains in concert with it.

This is not for traditionalists, or even for those who regard Trevor Pinnock’s DG Archive recordings as the be-all of historically informed performance. Those 1981 recordings remain very worthwhile, especially as the complete set, with the multi-keyboard concertos, is available on DG Trio for around £16, or a little more for lossless download (4717542). Just don’t try playing a movement such as the Siciliano from No.2 straight after Corti. I never thought I might find Pinnock’s Bach old-fashioned – and, in its own right it isn’t; try not the Siciliano but the finale of No.2, which is far from dull, though a trifle less free-wheeling than Corti. Having sampled the Pinnock recording, I found myself listening to the rest of the set. If I suggest that his is a ‘safe’ recommendation, I don’t mean to be disparaging. It’s certainly not stuck in time like George Malcolm’s 1963 recordings of Nos. 1 and 2 with Karl Münchinger; that’s surprisingly stylish but dated – review review.

Pinnock was working with his own English Concert and it helps when soloist/director and ensemble have formed a close relationship. This is, I believe, only Corti’s second recording with Il Pomo d’Oro, but they already seem to be working as a team. Pomo d’Oro have made several very fine recordings with other soloists, including an award-winning account of the Bach Violin Concertos (Erato 9029563387) so it seems pretty easy to form a working relationship with them.

I haven’t yet mentioned Corti’s potentially deal-making or -breaking variations in the da capo repeats. That’s because it didn’t impinge on my enjoyment of these performances; to be honest, I hardly noticed it, so well is it done, though I imagine that there’s an academic argument to be had. A PhD thesis, perhaps, but not something for the average well-informed listener to worry about.

One of the things that make Bach’s music so special is its ability not only to tolerate different approaches but to thrive on them. Varied approaches can also speak to different moods in the listener, and so it is with the recordings of these concertos. Corti is exhilarating – his Bach is one of the best in that kind that I know – but if you want to hear a more contemplative approach, Pinnock is your man, with Staier and Bonizzoni each having their own strong claims on the middle ground.

Choice between Corti and Bonizzoni also involves choosing between Concerto No.7 (Corti) and No.5 (Bonizzoni). Corti’s performance of No.7 is of a piece with the rest of the programme. Traditionalists will find the andante second movement too fast for their liking – much faster than Pinnock on that DG set – but he makes it work. The outer movements are far less controversial; only the brighter recording makes this performance sound faster than Pinnock.

I’ve already mentioned the Pentatone recording – bright and forward to match the performances. And there’s a bonus in having a CD – I can rip it and store it, without losing any quality, on the same hard drive where my downloads are kept. It’s easier to find it there than in the back of the CD cupboard. Ripping an SACD, on the other hand, leaves you with inferior 16-bit quality only.

If you like Bach fast but not too furious, this new recording could be for you.

Brian Wilson



Advertising on
Musicweb


Donate and keep us afloat

 

New Releases

Naxos Classical


Nimbus Podcast


Obtain 10% discount



Special offer 50% off
15CDs £83 incl. postage



Musicweb sells the following labels

Altus 10% off
Atoll 10% off
CRD 10% off
Hallé 10% off
Lyrita 10% off
Nimbus 10% off
Nimbus Alliance
Prima voce 10% off
Red Priest 10% off
Retrospective 10% off
Saydisc 10% off
Sterling 10% off


Follow us on Twitter

Subscribe to our free weekly review listing
sample

Sample: See what you will get

Editorial Board
MusicWeb International
Founding Editor
   
Rob Barnett
Editor in Chief
John Quinn
Seen & Heard
Editor Emeritus
   Bill Kenny
MusicWeb Webmaster
   David Barker
Postmaster
Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb Founder
   Len Mullenger