Bach's greatest orchestral music neatly packaged onto 3 CDs at a super-bargain price in excellent digital sound performed by a small, first-class modern-instrument ensemble directed to play in a fleet, alert and vivacious manner: what's not to like?
There are some famous names amongst the individual instrumentalists, including Kenneth Sillito, George Malcolm and Iona Brown, all of whom play without a hint of blandness; this is joyfully infectious music-making which will never become wearing on the ear.
I haven't much to add; Marriner could just occasionally stand rightfully accused of miniaturising or smoothing over music, perhaps as a result of simply recording too much and becoming routine but not here. I have traditional tastes in Bach and am fond of Philip Ledger's recording of the Brandenburgs with the English Chamber Orchestra, which is similar in style to Marriner's, and for a weightier approach in the Overtures I love Karl Munchinger and the Stuttgarter Kammerorchester, but this Warner set is equally satisfying unless you want period instruments, in which case I would start with Trevor Pinnock.
Otherwise, these thirty year-old recordings provide all you could wish for.
These are indeed elegant courtly performances and I enjoy this bargain box. If I were to refine my vote I would be easily persuaded to retract the final star from the Brandenburgs as for all the polish and beauty I feel that there is an impersonal veneer that comes between me and absolute enjoyment of the music making here when I compare it to other favourite readings which have a degree more character. It may be that the elegance is that bit too polished, and partly it relates to the recording quality itself which is a pretty polished sound that I find adds a very slight smoothing out of textures to my ears. Nothing that damning in any major sense as I still like these performances and given the bargain price they will provide many people with a great deal of enjoyment, as they do me.
To my ears the real five star performances in this set are what I find to be Marriner's more imaginatively directed accounts of the four orchestral suites which are equally elegant and courtly and somehow have more personality about them and it is for this reason that I feel the set as a whole merits five stars.
on 24 January 2016
There are of course many recordings of the Brandenburg Concertos and, no doubt, there will be many more. Some of the lesser ones seem to trawl through the scores as if it was all just routine - playing all the notes, but with little conviction or imagination. Here is a set of recordings however which really do seem to bring these works to life. They are played here with enthusiasm as well as being sympathetic to the music itself. Furthermore, the recording is clear and well produced, providing an appreciation of the various strands weaving in and out of these wonderful works that were among Bach's finest gifts. Even if you posses other recordings of the individual concertos, this set is well worth having as a unified presentation of these works. The 'orchestral' pieces are a bonus and the whole represents outstanding value.
I was in the market for a more elegant presentation of the Brandenburgs, one to replace the version by an eminent Italian ensemble of whom you may have heard. I opted for this trio, which also finds space for the Orchestral Suites, and it is proving commendable and recommendable. Sometimes the period instrument brigade end up sounding like glorified amateurs, village bandsmen, with their gruff and raspy tones and scrawny string sections. It's as well to remember that such music as Bach's concerti were written for refined, probably enlightened minds. Now the music is ours, to sit placidly or dance around in our underpants.
Buy this and you're going up in the world.