This is another in my series: Which Brandenburg?
In the past I've said I didn't care for Pinnock's performance of the Brandenburgs and when I sat down to review this recording no one was more surprised than me: I love it! What was I thinking?! I can't remember and I take it all back. I can now see why everyone points to this recording as the definitive interpretation.
I have always admired Trevor Pinnock for recording such an enormous amount of Baroque repertoire. I feel he has a permanent place in musical history for giving us this vast collection of Bach and other Baroque composers in complete and beautifully recorded form. His expert musicianship and commitment is undeniable.
This is the most crystal clear recording of the Brandenburgs I've ever heard. Each musician is in perfect balance, the smallest details are audible. The word I would use is "intimate." The orchestra is not surrounded by an echoing hall, the melodies are not blurred or buried, they are right there in front of you, so clear you can almost reach out and touch them.
The performance is flawless with lots of energy that never crosses the line into frantic. The tempos are fast but remain excellent and he doesn't take chances; he presents these concerti with the most enthusiasm, energy and joy able to be captured on cd. Pinnock is playing the harpsichord and his performance is wonderful (his solo cd's are also first-rate). None of the quirky egotism found with some other musicians' recordings, this is perfectly balanced and lovely. The horns in Concerto No. 1 are exceptionally well done, as is the trumpet in Concerto No. 2. The solo strings are particularly outstanding; you can hear every nuance of each musician's performance and it is often breathtakingly beautiful, especially the second movement of Concerto No. 6.
Do I love it enough to call it a favourite? Yes, but with a qualification. My particular taste has never gotten used to the sharp staccato style of the "original instruments" orchestras. This is a completely subjective feeling on my part. I prefer a larger orchestra, more legato and a little more echo. But I cannot deny the excitement I felt when listening to this recording, sounding like the musicians were in the room with me. In fact, for someone like me, this is a wonderful alternative to my standard favourites; it brings freshness and energy to these very familiar melodies and is very rewarding.
And lastly, my pet peeve: the packaging. In this case it is outstanding. The Brandenburgs are presented in numerical order followed by the 4 Orchestral Suites. It's great having them all in the same box. The booklet is detailed and interesting and contains photographs of the solo ensemble for each concerto. I really enjoyed seeing who these musicians are after hearing them perform together so well.
Will I be listening to this recording again? Yes. I highly recommend it, especially to a Bach or Brandenburg newbee. It is a flawless recording of a sensitive, intelligent and beautiful performance, presenting all the power and subtlety these concerti have to offer.
Dan Dalthorp said:
Performed on "historically accurate" period instruments. Most classical music fans have not developed a taste for such unique performances, but for those who have, I've heard that the "historical" aspect can enhance the enjoyment. The pace of this recording is slower than most, so, again, if you like that sort of thing...
John Wickstrom said:
I was interested in the recommendation of Thurstan Dart and the Philharmonica. This is a very old recording and rather idiosyncratic. Using corni di caccia in the First for instance gives the concerto a decidedly odd timbre, not for the first timer. The sixth (one of my criteria for a good set)seems to me a bit lead footed and thin in the upper strings. At the risk of seeming boringly middle-of-the-road, the integral recording by the English Concert and Pinnock, praised by most as the best of the lot, seems to me to be the best, the one I most return to. Full of energy and with a generation of authentic practise to inform the performance. Others I pull out from time to time: Harnoncourt (extremely rough edged and idiosyncratic but with a really nice "nasality" to it). Benjamin Britten's tour with the English Chamber Orchestra, recently out on CD seems to me the best of the 'modern instrument big-sound" sets, with a sense of individuality about it.
I have played this recording at dinner parties held in a small apartment, I have played in while having breakfast with my parents, and I have played it to put myself to sleep. But one thing I cannot do and that is to play it while I am reading. It is too distracting! Too often I would have to perk up my ears and go, "Wow, that horn is cool. Or, that bit with the strings is gorgeously dramatic despite being in the wrong century. Or, check out that exuberant trumpet, that no-mere-background-filling harpsichord, that cogent shift of scales. Gosh, you can hear all the instruments on this one!" And it isn't indulgent in one bit, which could be the case with attention given to specific instruments. The unity here is so coherent that people attempting to listen to baroque for means of relaxation have to go elsewhere. Yes, that includes those who think of the 'Air in G string' as lulling. Take a hike! Or better, give another listen to it here. No pretensions; Pinnock gives this piece just as much respect as he afforded the whole project; no misplaced sentimentality. And that is why it is beautiful. Did I say that right? Yes, beautiful and charming.