Bulgarian violinist Vesko Eschkenazy is one of the very good
guys of the classical music world and much loved in The Netherlands,
from where I am currently writing my reviews. The team of performers
brought together for this Pentatone recording is highly promising,
with support from leading soloist Tjeerd Top in the Double
Concerto, someone I remember from his time as a student
at the Royal Conservatoire in The Hague, and oboist Alexei Ogrintchouk
who now teaches there, as well as having increasing numbers
of distinguished recordings under his belt, including more Bach
from BIS (see review).
There is very little to criticise here, and these are all very
fine performances. The sound is pretty crisp supporting an historically
informed approach with brisk tempi, a discretely balanced harpsichord
helping things along and admirable transparency of texture and
articulation. Perhaps the orchestral sound could be a little
better defined, with the strings behind the soloists sounding
a bit generalised even in SACD mode, but this is a minor point.
Brisk tempi means we don’t have the same kind of profundity
in the beautiful Largo, ma non tanto second movement
of the Double Concerto, but we’ve moved on from
the kinds of romantic atmosphere beloved of David and Igor Oistrakh.
This is a kind of mixture between worlds, with fairly rich vibrato
in the solo lines to go along with the early-music flavour of
the general approach. Comparing with Monica Huggett and Alison
Bury with Ton Koopman on the Erato label shows very similar
timings but a far lighter, chamber-music sonority and a reluctance
to play with legato lines. Tighter rhythms and a livelier sonic
picture can be found on the BIS label, where Masaaki Suzuki’s
Bach Collegium Japan make a superb job of these concertos on
BIS-CD-961, showing how the orchestra can play a more pro-active
role while almost turning the soloists into consort members
rather than giving them their more usual prominence.
So much of what will turn you on in such recordings is a question
of taste, and to my ears there is nothing which offends in this
Pentatone Bach recording. BWV 1043 doesn’t quite
bring a tear to the eye as it can do with some versions, but
I still like it a great deal. The solo violin concertos BWV
1041 and BWV 1042 move along decently, though the
rhythms might have been a bit more bouncy in the outer movements.
The first movement of BWV 1041 for instance, has an intensely
narrative feel which Suzuki obtains in his BIS recording, but
which is a touch soggy here - a sensation which comes from that
rather generalised backing to the soloist. Timings are a little
longer, but not in any extreme way. I love Eschkenazy’s
restraint in the Andante of BWV 1041, and his
gorgeously humane solo lines are ultimately the main selling
point of this particular set.
The final D minor concerto BWV 1060, the one reconstructed
from a C minor concerto for two harpsichords works well in this
recording, with Ogrintchouk’s rich oboe tone mixing very
nicely with the strings and Eschkenazy’s partnering solo,
brought down a little in the balance to combine on an equal
footing and keep a realistic balance with the orchestra.
To conclude, this is a highly desirable recording of the Bach
violin concertos, but alas won’t become my all-time favourite.
I enjoy the period sound and all of the solo playing, but the
somewhat anonymous orchestral backing detracts a little from
the overall effect. It’s a different prospect, but Masaaki
Suzuki’s more inclusive ensemble is more satisfying to
my ears, though admittedly fitting less into conventional expectations
of the ‘concerto’ format. In the end, there is no
real problem with this recording other than that there are so
many others jostling for our attention. The SACD aspect is an
attraction, but doesn’t solve that mildly beige orchestral
tapestry which prevents me from making this a list of purely
Masterwork Index: Bach