Most helpful positive review
73 of 75 people found the following review helpful
Bright and transparent
on 23 January 2008
At the time of writing, the relevant Amazon pages list 14 CD recordings of Bach's complete Brandenburg Concertos. This particular one can lay a strong claim to being one of the best. It offers a faithful, superbly played and authentically Baroque reading of these evergreen works.
The six concertos that make up the Brandenburgs are very varied - they may not even have been conceived as a set - so it's refreshing to see that no artificial attempt at uniformity is made: the mantle of 'musical director' is shared between three highly accomplished violinists - Monica Huggett, Catherine Mackintosh and Elizabeth Wallfisch.
Technically, concertos four and five offer the greatest challenge. I remember reading somewhere that Bach may never have had the chance to hear such demanding works actually played during his lifetime. A sobering thought. The pieces are played here with verve and precision by Huggett and Malcolm Proud, on violin and harpsichord respectively. The harpsichord solo in the opening Allegro of the fifth concerto is a spellbinding passage which gets increasingly frenetic (almost manic) and prefigures Classical/Romantic cadenzas and much else. Proud is always controlled and introduces subtle variations of tempo and dynamic to avoid sounding prosaic.
Artistically, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment brings a creative engagement to the works without ever putting themselves before JSB. I particularly liked the horns' cross rhythms throwing confusion and an air of modernity into the mix in the first concerto. (Recently, I heard this effect again on radio - by Europa Galante, if memory serves.) The small scale of the ensemble, meanwhile, creates a sound that is transparent and lucid, nowhere more so than in the second concerto, where Mark Bennett's trumpet is crisp and clear. My only complaint is that the ensemble make no attempt to fill the lacuna in Brandenburg 3. A meagre two or three bar violin solo bridges movements 1 and 3. Two chords in the manuscript are all that's left of the slow movement - but it is enough to tell us that something is missing. Interpolations from The English Suites have been used to good effect in other recordings and it's a shame something more ambitious isn't attempted here. But what we have is excellent music and unbeatable value.