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Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos:  The  European Brandenburg Ensemble/ Trevor Pinnock ,  Cadogan Hall , 13.11.2007 (RC)

This magnificent concert tied in with the launch of the much anticipated new recording of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos by the European Brandenburg Ensemble under Trevor Pinnock. Many people consider his first recording with the English Concert, made 25 years ago, as still a benchmark set, combining technical skill, freshness, and consummate musicianship. Pinnock, now in his 60th year, evidently thought it was time to revisit these timeless works, and on the strength of last night’s concert he has clearly lost none of his abilities to inspire his fellow musicians. In a recent interview he said, ‘I’m intrigued by Bach’s sense of disorder and the subversive nature of his writing’. Such views seemed at the root of these interpretations, and the sense of involvement and joy demonstrated by every player communicated anew a sense of wonder in these miraculous creations.

The joyfully sprung dance rhythms of the First Concerto were combined with close interplay between the musicians to create an infectious start to the concert. It was also immediately evident through eye contact and shared smiles that these are players who have a close rapport. At the start of the second movement, both the solo oboe and violin allowed the melodic lines to soar, and all the piquant harmonies were relished. Indeed, time seemed suspended at the end of the movement. The solo violin was suitably virtuosic in the following Allegro and the horn parts were played with style, creating a compelling momentum. The final movement allowed all the sections of the orchestra to shine.

The Fifth Concerto may be regarded as the first true keyboard concerto, but Pinnock clearly saw himself as first among equals. I was particularly struck by the intimate nature of the performance, the concentration and intense engagement between the players. After the delicate minor middle section and the return of the opening ritornello, the famous harpsichord cadenza was a tour de force. Pinnock is an immaculate and intensely musical player; his keyboard control is always at the service of the music. The freer interplay between the soloists in the Affetuoso was beautifully shaped, providing a contrast between the outer movements and preparing the way for a bracingly virtuosic performance of the final Allegro.

The first half concluded with the Third Concerto. The interplay between the three choirs of violins, violas and cellos was carefully combined with a sense of momentum, allowing the movement to develop and intensify as it progressed. The impressive Kati Debretzeni provided a solo violin cadenza to link the outer movements, and the final Allegro fizzed with energy and rhythmic vitality.

The exhilarating tempo set for the first movement of the Fourth Concerto provided no problems for Kati Debretzeni again, excelling herself in the treacherous violin solo part. The whole movement was intensely satisfying, with Pinnock again acting as the catalyst for the performance. There was a graceful, yearning quality given to the following Andante, followed by a joyous Presto.

The absence of the violins creates a uniquely rich sound world in the Sixth Concerto, and the lyrical qualities of the music were brought to the fore in this performance, with the interweaving of parts and careful textural shading sensitively caught. The Adagio had a compelling impetus, with the long, glowing lines impressively sustained, and the dance elements in the final Allegro were infectious. If this concerto was not the most technically immaculate performance of the night it was an eminently satisfying performance.

The Second Concerto rounded off the evening, containing the greatest diversity of solo instruments. Again, the unity of purpose was most impressive, with David Blackadder doing wonders on the trumpet. The Andante was given a spaciousness which allowed the melodies to sing, and each dissonance was savoured. In particular, the interplay between the solo oboe, violin and recorder was sensitively handled. The glorious last movement, with its joyous dance rhythms, rounded off a memorable night’s music-making, making one truly grateful for the life-enhancing powers of Bach’s genius.

Robert Costin


Robert Costin is Director of Music at Ardingly College, West Sussex, a post he combines with a busy recital, recording and broadcasting career. His latest solo CD of major organ works by Liszt and Reubke will be released in early 2008 on the Atoll label. His website is



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