|Comments:||Review by Jan Hanford:|
This is another in my series "Which Brandenburg?"
Performance: Elegant Perfection
My favourite recording of the Brandenburg Concertos is by Karl Ristenpart and the Chamber Orchestra of the Saar, originally available in the 1960's and 70's on Nonesuch and released in 1989 on the French label, Accord. Since that recording is nearly impossible to find, I felt I should find another more easily acquired recording to recommend as my favourite. Aside from the Ristenpart, of all the recordings of the Brandenburg Concertos I own, when I get a craving this recording by Rudolf Baumgartner and the Festival Strings, Lucerne is the one I go back to most frequently. And it also includes the Orchestral Suites, what a gem!
I'll get my pet peeve out of the way right now: there are no liner notes. Since it is on the BMG budget label, it is not surprising but it is disappointing just the same. However, a 3-cd set for the price of 1 cd is just incredible, so my complaint is minor. It does list the soloists, and we have some familiar names: Josef Suk, violin, Aurele Nicholet, flute, Christiane Jaccottet, solo harpsichord. And the quality shows, this recording is a masterpiece of elegance and sensitivity.
Unlike the some of the "authentic instruments" recordings which are vibrant and lively to an almost manic level, this recording is understated and beautiful. That doesn't mean it is boring, it most definitely is not. It is the middle ground between the crisp, speedy performances of the newer authentic instruments and the older, larger orchestra, and to my ears it is just right. In some movements (not all) the tempos are slightly slower than the newer recordings, which I must admit is refreshing. Rather than the melodies flying past in a whirlwind you get to visit them like old friends. Most movements are as lively and vibrant as any I've heard, but with a more pleasant mellow sound. This is probably due to the increased ambient echo which creates the feeling of sitting in a concert hall, rather than the intimacy of sitting in the middle of the orchestra. I enjoy both experiences, since they offer such completely different points of view. Do I have a preference? If you insist, I would have to say this one.
One of my requirements for enjoying a recording of the Brandenburgs, and that this one fulfills, is the second movement of Concerto No. 1 should bring tears to my eyes (I don't know why, it just does). Another favourite moment is the second movement of Concerto No. 4: it is lush, delicate, sad, thoughtful, everything I could ever ask for. Those final notes of the recorder solo get me every time.
The soloists are consistently excellent, one of the most important being that the brass is in tune with no squawking. The traditionally speedy solos are present: The violin in Concerto No. 4 is fast without being frantic and the harpsichord solo in Concerto No. 5 is expressive without interrupting the flow, one of the best I've heard. Some of the solos in the fast movements are more blended in with the orchestra rather than pushed out to the front of the mix. This makes them a little less obvious but I grew up listening to these concertos this way, so I think it sounds great. At no time does it sound muddy but, rather, the result is it sounds integrated. One of the positives of this kind of performance is that you hear something different every time you listen; more details reveal themselves and it is exciting to discover them this way.
If you are a big fan of the very crispy "authentic instruments" recordings (i.e. the Reinhard Goebel recording) you might be disappointed by this one, it sounds restrained by comparison. But I think its lack of eccentricity makes this the perfect choice for a Brandenburg newbie, and for a Brandenburg oldie (like me) it is the way I've always liked to hear them and I couldn't be happier.
Dan Lewis said:
I agree whole-heartedly with Jan's description of the Baumgartner & Lucerne Festival Orchestra's recording of the complete Brandenburgs - they are all excellent, and I still think so after 20 years of listening to them. A "must-have" for anyone who is beginning a collection of Bach recordings -- all of the other recordings I have subsequently heard of the Brandenburgs always disappoint in one way or another. Highly recommended!