Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Complete Harpsichord & Violin Concertos
Concerto Copenhagen/Lars Ulrik Mortensen
rec. 2002-2013, Mantziusgarden, Birkerød, Garnisson Church, Copenhagen, Denmark
CPO 555 299-2 [5 CDs: 265:57]
Many will applaud the appearance of this set of the complete Harpsichord Concertos and Violin Concertos, recently issued by CPO. It brings together, conveniently under one roof, five separate volumes that the label issued between 2002 and 2013. When they initially appeared, they were greeted with enthusiasm and acclaim
(review ~ review). I have to admit, though, that this is my first encounter with any of them.
Concerto Copenhagen, Scandinavia’s leading Baroque orchestra, was formed in 1991. Lars Ulrick Mortensen has been its artistic director since 1999. He fulfils the role of director and conductor, leading from the harpsichord.
Bach’s single- and multiple-harpsichord concertos have been well served recording-wise over the years. Outstanding traversals, for me, include Trevor Pinnock’s with the English Concert (on Deutsche Grammophon / Archiv), in which Mortensen participates; Bob van Asperen’s with the Melante Amsterdam (on Virgin Veritas); and the delightful and stylish account by Café Zimmermann (on Alpha).
Bach wrote seven complete concertos for a single harpsichord (BWV 1052-1058), three for two harpsichords (BWV 1060-1062), two for three harpsichords (BWV 1063-1064), and one for four harpsichords (BWV 1065). He was an an ardent recycler, so BWV 1054 and 1058 will be recognizable from their previous incarnations as the Violin Concertos in E major and A minor respectively. BWV 1057 is an arrangement of the Fourth Brandenburg Concerto. For the success of any recording, it is essential to strike a correct balance between solo instrument and orchestra. These performance hit the target perfectly. I would describe the orchestral playing as athletic and vital. Mortensen displays great flexibility and expressive freedom, and there is never any sense of the mechanical entering the mix. I particularly favour the animated outer movements.
Two discs are assigned to the multi-harpsichord concertos. In the concertos for two harpsichords, Mortensen partners with Trevor Pinnock. The two go back a long way, to the days when Mortensen studied with Pinnock in London. They joined forces in the English Concert’s 1981 recording of the three and four harpsichord concerti, and it is good to see them renew their partnership. The playing is rhythmically tight, with energetic and animated outer movements, and probing and reflective slow movements. The superb balance between the instruments facilitates clarity and detail.
When it comes to the violin concertos, some period instrument recordings I have heard have been too swiftly paced for my taste, and seemed characterless and bland. On these recordings, tempi are nicely paced. Fredrik From, who performs BWV 1041-1042, plays with effortless virtuosity. The quality of the recording highlights the interplay between soloist and the orchestra’s infectious energy. The soloists in the double violin concerto are Peter Spissky and Bjarte Eike. They capture a distinctive conversational quality in the slow movement. Manfredo Kraemer (violin) and Antoine Torunczyk (oboe) perform BWV 1060R. Once again, it is the slow movement that is the lodestar, with the exquisitely sculpted lines of the two instruments eloquently interwoven.
The Harpsichord Concertos BWV 1052-1054, the start of the cycle, were taped in 2002 in the Mantziusgarden, Birkerød, Denmark. All the rest were recorded in the Garisson Church, Copenhagen. I do not wish to decry the former, but the latter venue has the edge, rendering the recorded sound marginally brighter and more vivid. It also provides more effective profiling of the solo instruments. The accompanying liner notes are first-class, and provide a useful commentary on the works featured.
Concerto for 2 keyboards in C major, BWV1061
Concerto for 2 keyboards in C minor, BWV1060
Concerto for 2 keyboards in C minor, BWV1062
Concerto for 2 violins in D minor, BWV1043
Concerto for 3 keyboards in C major, BWV1064
Concerto for 3 keyboards in D minor, BWV1063
Concerto for 4 keyboards in A minor, BWV1065
Concerto for oboe and violin in C minor, BWV1060
Keyboard Concerto no.1 in D minor, BWV1052
Keyboard Concerto no.2 in E major, BWV1053
Keyboard Concerto no.3 in D major, BWV1054
Keyboard Concerto no.4 in A major, BWV1055
Keyboard Concerto no.5 in F minor, BWV1056
Keyboard Concerto no.6 (with 2 flutes/violins) in F major, BWV1057
Keyboard Concerto no.7 in G minor, BWV1058
Violin Concerto no.1 in A minor, BWV1041
Violin Concerto no.2 in E major, BWV1042
Lars Ulrik Mortensen (harpsichord)
Trevor Pinnock (harpsichord)
Marieke Spaans (harpsichord)
Marcus Mohlin (harpsichord)
Fredrik From (violin)
Peter Spissky (violin)
Bjarte Eike (violin)
Manfredo Kraemer (violin)
Antoine Torunczyk (oboe)