on 20 August 2004
The idea of a "perfect recording" is, of course, chimerical. But Trevor Pinnock's "Brandenburg Concertos" and "Orchestral Suites" come pretty close to the mark. There are two factors which put this 3-CD set in the category "very special": One is the sheer musicianship of the young English Concert team. Every soloist seems to want to outdo the others in technical skill, tonal clarity and emotional verve. Listen to Pinnock himself on the harpsichord in the Brandenburg Concert No. 5; listen to Lisa Beznosiuk accompanying him on the traverse flute; listen to Simon Standage, Philip Pickett and Rachel Beckett in Concert No. 4 ... and so the list goes on. This is an unending sequence of instrumental delights, and only someone who dislikes Baroque period instruments on principle will fail to experience heights of enjoyment of this exquisite sound. Which brings me to the second factor: Seldom have I heard such a brilliant recording! Deutsche Gramophon is generally known for superior sound, but this 1982 piece of digital engineering (Brandenburg Concertos) surpasses anything I have ever heard even from this label: Purity, clarity, spaciousness and presence are uniquely combined to provide a listening experience which could hardly be topped.
The Orchestral Suite sound (analogue recording from 1979/1980) is only slightly less brilliant and also deserves great praise. I have listened to a number of rival recordings, but nothing captivates me quite like the the English Concert discs. The only slight question mark could perhaps be put behind the Sixth Brandenburg Concerto, which in its Adagio slow movement seems to lack a little fire. Generally, Pinnock has chosen tempi that are moderate, and although musicologists and interpreters since this recording (Goebel; Rampe) have argued cogently for faster rhythms, their efforts sound decidedly contrived in comparison with Pinnock's easy, flowing version which caresses the ear without betraying any of Bach's depth or humour. It would suprise me greatly if anyone who bought this CD-box ever regretted it.
Since the steady resurgence in popularity of Bach's music there has become an increasing number of Brandenburg Concerto recordings to chose from. Just like the numerous versions of Beethoven symphonies, there are now an abundance of these popular Bach works on CD, which on the one hand gives a variety of interpretations to listen to, but on the other causes confusion when deciding which to choose.
These recordings from 1978/1979 (orchestral suites) and 1982 (Brandenburg's) have been available previously on vinyl (the suites) and since 1988 on CD (Brandenburg's).
Of the many recordings now available, these remain one of my favourites. The musicianship of The English Concert, Trevor Pinnock (harpsichord) and Simon Standage (violin) is unquestioned but the beauty of the performances is in their crisp liveliness. So often are these works played competently but formally, that it's refreshing to hear them played with vibrancy and enthusiasm.
Recommended listening for those wanting an enthusiastic Brandenburg.
on 29 August 2006
This is a brilliant CD and I couldn't articulate this any better than the other reviewers. I would watch the price though. The prices of Classical Music at Amazon seems to fluctuate wildly (especially box sets). I bought it for £9.97 four months ago and at the time of writing it is listed at £25.99. If you want to buy it, wait and watch the price - the same goes for other Classical CDs.
on 9 November 2005
This is the definitive recording by the best Bach interpreter and all in one handy, compact box set! Some of the tempi are a little slower than I've heard before, but that's just down to conditioning! Buy this now and you never have to purchase another Bach concerto CD
on 10 June 2013
What is it about the Brandenburg? It deserves to be played beautifully, as on this 3 CD album. You can sink into the adventure and re-appear hours later wondering how on earth Bach achieved such an astonishing collection of music. But check out Concerto Italiano version too (only 2 CDs, but arguably more "jolly"). Get both!