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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Brandenburg Concerto No. 1 in F major, BWV 1046 [15.49]
Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 in F major, BWV 1047 [09.08]
Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G major, BWV 1048 [09.02]
Sinfonia - Church Cantata, Ich liebe den Höchsten von ganzem Gemüte, BWV 174 [5.40]
Sinfonia - Church Cantata, Am Abend aber desselbigen Sabbats, BWV 42 [5.41]
Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 in G major, BWV 1049 [13.29]
Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 in D major, BWV 1050 [19.29]
Brandenburg Concerto No. 6 in B-flat major, BWV 1051 [16.00]
Berliner Barock Solisten/Reinhard Goebel
rec. 2016, Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Dahlem, Berlin
SONY CLASSICAL 88985361112 [40.11 + 55.08]

Under the direction of early music specialist Reinhard Goebel the Berliner Barock Solisten has turned its attention to one of the great Baroque masterpieces J.S. Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos. Also included on this Sony 2 CD set are the Sinfonias from a pair of Bach’s church cantatas. It was 30 years ago that Reinhard Goebel with his period instrument ensemble Musica Antiqua Köln first recorded the Brandenburg Concertos on Archiv Produktion. At the time many commentators were surprised by the fast tempi Goebel adopted.

A Baroque masterpiece dedicated to the Margrave Christian Ludwig of Brandenburg-Schwedt the Brandenburg Concertos is a celebrated collection, rich and diverse in scoring, and varying in length. Based on the Italian concerto grosso style the set dated 1721 was completed during Bach’s tenure as Kapellmeister in the town of Cöthen, Thuringia apparently for members of the Cöthen Court Orchestra. Originally Bach presented the set to the Margrave bearing the title Six Concerts Avec Plusieurs Instruments (Six concertos for several instruments) the title Brandenburg Concertos wasn’t used until much later. The Margrave was part of a distinguished Royal dynasty being son of the ‘Great Elector’ Frederick William ruler of Brandenburg-Prussia and the half-brother of King Frederick I of Prussia, and uncle of Frederick William I of Prussia.

Founded in 1995 by Rainer Kussmaul the Berliner Barock Solisten comprises of members of the Berliner Philharmoniker and leading figures in Berlin’s early music scene. Employing a flexible period informed performance approach, the Berliner Barock Solisten perform here with a combination of new and old instruments fitted with modern set up's such as metal strings and valved horns etc. Now an advocate of employing a flexible, period informed approach Goebel has used his vast experience in early music for example in determing the choice of instruments for this recording. In 2016 when asked about making this recording Goebel said “I really couldn’t care less about the superficial things: the bow, the gut strings, no endpin, whatever. I want to focus on getting to the very bottom of the material, as deep as I possibly can.”

There is a sparkling vitality to these commendable interpretations under Goebel that feels fresh and optimistic. Only in the four movement Concerto No. 1 in F major do the textures sound to my ears slightly heavy and cumbersome which isn’t helped by the overloaded orchestration notably the presence of multiple winds especially the horns. This bustling overactivity is evident in several recordings not just this one. Goebel has the benefit of excellent solo contributions and the ripieno is impressively unified and stable throughout. No doubt the extended parts for the pair of horns representing hunting reflect the Margrave’s passion for the hunt. An exception to the excesses in the concerto is the Adagio with the oboe and violin alternating in quite glorious manner. In Concerto No. 2 in F major the quartet of solo instruments violin, recorder, oboe and trumpet combine and contrast beautifully. Notable in the finale marked Allegro assai is the solo trumpet strikingly played by Reinhold Friedrich.

In two movements the Concerto No. 3 in G major scored for three violins, three violas, three cellos and basso continuo including harpsichord is given an exhilarating rendition. Splendidly rhythmic the opening movement Allegro – Adagio is squally and invigorating, and displaying outstanding control Goebel whizzes through the Finale, Allegro at a heady speed. The featured solo instruments in the haughty Concerto No. 4 in G major are a virtuosic solo violin and a pair of recorders that mainly dominate the proceedings with the reedy tone reminding me slightly of the sound of a Positive organ. Dashing in character the Concerto No. 5 in D major features a dominant flute, solo violin and a harpsichord part that can barely be heard. Especially arresting is the Finale, Allegro jaunty and upbeat in Goebel’s hands with the flute standing out markedly. Notable for its absence of violins the Concerto No. 6 in B-flat major is scored for pairs of violas and viola da gamba with cello, violone and harpsichord. Particularly attractive is the tuneful Finale, Allegro which is dance-like in the manner of a Gigue which makes a fitting conclusion to these ceaseless captivating works.

Goebel directs full blooded, period informed performances from the Berliner Barock Solisten using modern instruments. With Goebel favouring mainly vigorous speeds the ensemble plays with undisputable conviction adding perception and considerable virtuosity to the Brandenburgs. Recorded in the renowned acoustic of the Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Dahlem the sound engineers provide relatively cool, clear sound quality with a generally satisfying balance, the drawback being the barely audible harpsichord. In the booklet Reinhard Goebel has written the informative booklet essay.

In the catalogue there are a couple of sets of the Brandenburg Concertos that I especially admire. For many years my favoured set has been the impeccable period instrument account by The English Concert directed by Trevor Pinnock. Originally released in 1982 my set is the 1989 reissue on Archiv Produktion. Cream of the crop now is the excitingly vivacious and beautifully performed 2005 Rome account on authentic instruments from Concerto Italiano directed by Rinaldo Alessandrini on Naïve. Under Alessandrini the Italians feel completely at one with their period instruments, with crisp and fluid playing, brisk and exuberant with a superior rhythmic pulse.

On this immensely gratifying recording of the Brandenburg Concertos under Goebel’s direction the Berliner Barock Solisten is in sterling form and stand comparison with the finest accounts. These are performances of sparkling freshness and unquenchable vitality that add a striking sense of colour to these frequently recorded scores.

Michael Cookson

 




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