Bach's concertos are so good that most of us would like more of them.
That presents a very obvious problem but there is a solution: look at alternate versions. Bach borrowed endlessly from himself, so many of his works exist in several versions and more still are known to have existed in versions now lost. That makes a good starting point for a disc of reasonably authentic, reasonably new concertos. The Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin brings us one new reconstruction, one older reconstruction and two autograph transcriptions.
The lead work is the Violin Concerto BWV 1052 in D minor. Until now we have known it only as a harpsichord concerto but the soloist and transcriber, Midori Seiler, argues that it was originally written for violin; her reverse transcription relies on Bach's known procedures in adapting his violin concertos in A minor and E major for harpsichord. The result is certainly effective and idiomatic enough to be convincing:
Listen -- [Allegro] (BWV 1052)
(track 1, 0:01-1:28) © 2005 harmonia mundi
'The Concerto in F major for harpsichord and two recorders BWV 1057 is Bach's own transcription of his Fourth Brandenburg Concerto,' as the booklet says, and the secondary version is moderately well known. The Concerto for two harpsichords in C minor BWV 1062 is similarly Bach's own transcription of his wonderful Concerto in D minor for two violins BWV 1043 and well known in both versions.
Listen -- [Allegro] (BWV 1062)
(track 4, 0:42-1:58) © 2005 harmonia mundi
The Double Concerto BWV 1060, however, 'has survived only in a version for two harpsichords and orchestra, but it is now generally accepted that this is an arrangement of a concerto for oboe and violin,' and the reconstruction 'posed no significant difficulties.' (In fact, similar reconstructions are already available both in print and on disc.)
Listen -- Adagio (BWV 1060)
(track 11, 0:01-1:29) © 2005 harmonia mundi
The Akademie plays with vigour, precision and the excellent sense of period style one expects from baroque specialists. However, the orchestra is a little top-heavy, and perhaps a little large for historical accuracy, with nine violins, three violas and only one cello and one bass. The result is a tendency towards imbalance within the orchestra in fugal textures, and sometimes between orchestra and soloists.
Listen -- Allegro assai (BWV 1057)
(track 9, 0:45-1:35) © 2005 harmonia mundi
The reviewer's preference for one solo instrument rather than another is likely to be as personal as any other listener's, so all I will say is that the harpsichord versions of all the concertos do seem a little less satisfying than the (putative) originals -- but then, they are all worthwhile in terms of my opening remark.
There are several good competing versions of all the other works but the performances here are fine, too, so the newly-transcribed Violin Concerto could be the key to a decision about the disc. Listen to part of the slow movement:
Listen -- Adagio (BWV 1052)
(track 2, 0:46-1:40) © 2005 harmonia mundi
Copyright © 30 August 2008
Malcolm Tattersall, Townsville, Australia
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J S Bach: Concertos
HMC 901876 Stereo FIRST RELEASE 63'35" 2005 harmonia mundi sa
Midori Seiler, violin; Christoph Huntgeburth, recorder; Xenia Löffler, oboe and recorder; Raphael Alpermann, harpsichord; Jörg Andreas Bötticher, harpsichord; Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin; Stephan Mai, director
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750): Concerto in D minor for violin, strings and basso continuo BWV 1052 (Allegro; Adagio; Allegro); Concerto in C minor for two harpsichords, strings and basso continuo BWV 1062 (Allegro; Andante e piano; Allegro assai); Concerto in F for harpsichord, two recorders, strings and basso continuo BWV 1057 (Allegro; Andante; Allegro assai); Concerto in C minor for oboe, violin, strings and basso continuo BWV 1060 (Allegro; Adagio; Allegro)
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