Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Violin concerto in D minor, BWV 1063 (arranged for three violins by Huw Daniel) [13.49]
Violin concerto in A minor, BWV 1041 [13.15]
Violin concerto in E major, BWV 1042 [16.45]
Concerto for two violins in D minor (Double Concerto), BWV 1043 [14.27]
Concerto for three violins in D minor, BWV 1064R (reconstructed from BWV 1064 - Concerto in C major for three harpsichords) [16.50]
Baroque violins: Carla Moore, Monica Huggett, Jolianne Einem, Rob Diggins, Adam LaMotte
Portland Baroque Orchestra/Monica Huggett
rec. 2013, St. Anne’s Chapel, Marylhurst University, Marylhurst, Oregon, USA

This is a splendid release from the Portland Baroque Orchestra, one of the foremost period-instrument ensembles in the USA. It presents Bach concertos for one, two and three violins and is issued on the orchestra's own label.

Bach’s violin concertos were most likely products of Bach’s time at Weimar and Cöthen. They were played during his engagement as director of the Collegium Musicum, Leipzig an orchestra - founded by Telemann in 1702 - comprising students and a number of professionals. Apart from a short break from the music society Bach was engaged at the Collegium until the early 1740s.

As is the case with many of Bach works provenance can be doubtful. The opening work is the delightful Violin concerto in D minor, BWV 1063 that may have been intended for different combinations of instruments. This arrangement for three violins has been prepared by Huw Daniel. Next comes the much admired Violin concerto in E major, BWV 1042 a work of uncertain origin. Copies have been handed down but there's also a keyboard arrangement by Bach himself. The actual score to the well known Violin concerto in A minor, BWV 1041 is lost and the work survives in a set of parts in various hands including Bach’s own. There is an enduring popularity to the magnificent and melodically appealing Concerto for two violins in D minor (Double Concerto), BWV 1043. The work exists in a set of parts with the original score lost. There are arrangements of both BWV 1041 and BWV 1043 in Bach’s handwriting for harpsichord and strings. Finally on the disc is the Concerto for three violins in D minor, BWV 1064R, a reconstruction from the Concerto in C major for three harpsichords, BWV 1064 although there is some doubt whether Bach actually composed the original version. The booklet notes state that “it is broadly agreed that [it] was meant for three violins.”

There's satisfying and splendidly controlled playing by the well prepared Portland Baroque Orchestra with plenty of colourful detail revealed. For my particular taste a certain restraint comes at the expense of some buoyancy in the outer movements. These convey a breezy feel rather than the spirited quality I relish. The slow movements have a certain delicacy although in truth I wanted a touch more expressive warmth. The engineers have ensured excellent sound quality which is clear and satisfying balanced.

My first choice in this repertoire is Giuliano Carmignola directing the Concerto Köln from the baroque violin in 2013 at Köln on Archiv Produktion. Carmignola lets us hear five violin concertos featuring the admired Concerto in A minor (BWV 1041), Concerto in E major (BWV 1042) plus the magnificent Concerto for two violins in D minor (BWV 1043) where he is paired with Mayumi Hiratsuka. A leading performer of the authentic instrument school Carmignola’s playing is stunning from start to finish. The results are fresh, crisply articulated and vibrantly expressive. There is nothing stuffy or stale about these irresistible period performances on a gut strung Stradivarius Baillot of 1732.

Michael Cookson

Note: this review is of a pre-release copy; the recording will be available from July 15