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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Concerto for violin, strings and bc in E (BWV 1042) [16:44]
Concerto for violin, strings and bc in a minor (BWV 1041) [13:47]
Concerto for violin, strings and bc in d minor (BWV 1052d) [21:51]
Concerto for violin, strings and bc in g minor (BWV 1056g) [09:39]
Amsterdam Bach Soloists/Thomas Zehetmair (violin)
rec. 1 March 1994, Waalse Kerk, Amsterdam, Netherlands. DDD
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 94666 [62:05]

Johann Sebastian Bach was a virtuosic violinist. His famous Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin bear witness to that. He must have written a number of violin concertos as well, but unfortunately only two of them - plus a concerto for two violins - have come down to us. They were written during Bach's time in Cöthen, where a large number of his instrumental works were created. It seems likely that at least some of his violin concertos were re-worked in Leipzig as harpsichord concertos. Over the years scholars and performers have made attempts to reconstruct the original forms. This has led to a handful of concertos for either the violin or the oboe.
 
This disc includes the two original violin concertos and two such reconstructions. At the time this recording was made the Amsterdam Bach Soloists played modern instruments, albeit in 'period style'. It was only logical for them to invite Thomas Zehetmair to perform with them. In his early years Zehetmair took lessons with Nikolaus Harnoncourt and this had a decisive influence on his interpretations. His recording of Bach's Sonatas and Partitas clearly show Harnoncourt's influence. Although performed on a modern violin it is still a very rewarding set.
 
Zehetmair is by no means just a brilliant violinist; he is a very sincere musician. He doesn't feel the need to do odd things to attract attention, unlike a certain British colleague of his. He concentrates on music-making and never puts himself centre-stage. I have had the pleasant experience of hearing him several times with the Orchestra of the 18th Century, giving outstanding and stylish performances of concertos by Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn and Brahms. Over the years I have heard several of these Bach concertos, but unfortunately I didn't have the complete set in my collection. Therefore when this reissue was included in a list of review copies I didn't hesitate. I have not been disappointed.
 
The use of modern instruments and their natural limitations in regard to the performance of pre-romantic music dictate that this disc cannot go to the top of the bill. The best period instrument recordings have to be preferred. That said, Zehetmair's interpretations are compelling and as stylish as one could wish for where a modern instrument is used. One can leave it to him to explore the expressive qualities of the slow movements. The adagio from the Concerto in E is simply wonderful. Zehetmair plays with great sensitivity and much differentiation in regard to tempo, dynamics and articulation. He also has a perfect sense of rhythm: the fast movements have an irresistible drive and some listeners may find it hard to keep their feet still.
 
The opening movement of the Concerto in d minor, best known in its later re-working for harpsichord, has strong improvisatory traits, and these come off perfectly in Zehetmair's hands. His subtle timing, his attention to key moments and his feeling for the dramatic tension of this movement - and the concerto as a whole - result in a theatrical performance which is hard to surpass. Only one movement fails to satisfy in full: the andante from the Concerto in a minor. It is very well played and is not lacking in expression, but the tempo seems too slow. I once heard Reinhard Goebel play this movement about twice as fast, and I found that highly convincing.
 
This is a most rewarding reissue. Even those lovers of baroque music who usually avoid modern instrument performances, should consider this disc at budget price.
 
Johan van Veen
http://www.musica-dei-donum.org
https://twitter.com/johanvanveen
 
Masterwork Index: Bach violin concertos