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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Sinfonia from Cantata “Ich hette viel Bekümmernbis” BWV 21 [3:04]
Concerto in C minor BWV 1060 [13:2]
Adagio from Easter Oratorio BWV 249 [3:23]
Concerto in A major BWV 1055 [13:58]
Alessandro MARCELLO (1669-1747)/ Johann Sebastian BACH
Concerto in D minor [10:41]
Johann Sebastian BACH
Sinfonia from Cantata “Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen” BWV 12 [2:47]
Concerto in D minor BWV 1059 [11:57]
Heinz Holliger (oboe, oboe d’amore)
Camerata Bern/Erich Höbarth (violin)
rec. December 2010, Radiostudio Zürich
ECM NEW SERIES 2229 [59:13]

Experience Classicsonline

Having recently had the pleasure of reviewing Alexei Ogrintchouk’s BIS recording of J.S. Bach’s concertante works with oboe (see review) which inevitably overlaps with a few BWV numbers, I was intrigued to find out if veteran performer Heinz Holliger would provide different insights into similar repertoire.

In the end there isn’t a huge amount to choose between the two in terms of interpretation when it comes to the concerti. Ogrintchouk’s Swedish Chamber Orchestra is generally leaner and more intimate sounding, his solo lines a little more clipped than Holliger’s, though both create an equally expressive line. This is true even where tempi differ considerably, Holliger’s Adagio from BWV 1060 coming in at a brisk 4:49 against Ogrintchouk’s more expansive 5:30. I don’t find Holliger and the Camerata Bern overly hasty, and indeed their greater forward momentum gives the movement quite a graceful dance feel, the slowness in the rate of bars per minute, rather than beats. Ogrintchouk is swifter and more exciting in the final movement here, but I remain unperturbed by Holliger’s sense of proportion and don’t really find myself preferring one over the other. BWV 1055 is another meeting place where we find Ogrintchouk overtaking Holliger in the outer movements, and the latter gaining ground in the slow central movement. Ogrintchouk’s oboe d’amore has a more hollow and distinctive sound colour; Holliger’s sounding more just like a big oboe. I like Holliger’s treatment of ornamentation and sense of playfulness in this concerto, giving plenty of improvisatory interest to the lines in the Larghetto for instance, where Ogrintchouk is more reserved and semplice. The programme finishes with the Concerto in D minor, BWV 1059 reconstructed from cantatas BWV 35 and 156, for which the BIS booklet cites Arnold Mehl and Edition Kunzelmann. The ECM booklet also goes into some detail about the provenance and various alternative versions of the reconstruction, but both recordings show no substantial differences and are performed to the highest standards.

This ECM programme also brings in two different Sinfonia movements, as well as giving us the Adagio from the Easter Oratorio BWV 249 also programmed with BIS. The Sinfonia from Ich hette viel Bekümmernbis BWV 21 is a marvellously expressive opening which sells you on the rest of the disc from the outset, the interaction between the oboe and Erich Höbarth’s solo violin creating a rich carpet of sound into which we can sink with grateful luxury. The Sinfonia from Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen BWV 12 is a similarly gorgeous moment, and each of these creates a lovely break in the series of concerti. Bach arranged the Concerto in D minor by Alessandro Marcello for harpsichord, which became his BWV 974. I’m not sure quite where Bach comes into this return to the original oboe solo though I’ve kept the credit in as given on the CD, but it still makes for a superbly expressive vehicle for Holliger, who clearly relishes the central Adagio.

There is a funny effect on the recording which, given the location, I can only put down to an artefact of artificial reverb. The instruments at first appear to be in some kind of vast churchy chamber, but when you listen more carefully it is as if they are being shadowed by a hollow and mysterious ghost orchestra, with especially the mid-lower instruments casting a kind of acoustic shadow which bears no relation to any genuine space I could imagine. This is not unpleasant, but once you become aware of it the effect can become a little distracting. The ultimate result is that this ECM disc is a richer pudding than the BIS recording, despite its SACD benefits. With such a confluence of repertoire the choice should be almost entirely one between performances, but here I have greater trouble differentiating. I love both Alexei Ogrintchouk’s and Heinz Holliger’s mellifluous sound, and both are equally expressive in their own ways. Ogrintchouk’s fast concerto movements are swifter and more immediately exciting, but Holliger’s have plenty of bounce as well, and his more compact slow movements are compelling where Ogrintchouk’s almost risk becoming a bit static. Both accompanying orchestras are light and authentic sounding, with nicely played harpsichord continuo, for which the ECM balance has marginally the greater sparkle.

What to do? In the end, I find myself coming down on the side of ECM, but only just. Despite the rather ‘loud pedal’ acoustic effect there are one or two more uber-Bach goose-bump moments, and I do love those Sinfonias. Holliger and the Camerata Bern are a tad lighter in terms of the mood created on the whole, so ECM also wins on the ‘fun factor’ scale if that is of any intrinsic value or interest. Despite being shorter in duration, the more interesting programming also gives you the feeling of having had a more substantial musical feast by the end, and makes me feel I’m more likely to play it again.

Dominy Clements