|Comments:||Thomas Hubeart said:|
The outside of this budget-priced double CD set does not fully reveal that this is a vintage performance, unless one is perhaps tipped off by the name of Felix Prohaska, the conductor, or by the "Bach Guild" designation. In point of fact, we find out inside the jewel case that this was recorded in Vienna in 1956 and is in mono, not stereo, sound. I was somewhat disappointed at finding this out until I actually listened to the recording.
This is actually a very good, "middle-of-the-road" (for the 1950s) rendition of the Brandenburg Concertos. There is, as the saying runs, "nothing to frighten the horses"--no wild authentic-instruments tempos, no untamed brasses or screechy strings. The biggest liberty that Prohaska and company have taken may be with the phrasing of a motif in Brandenburg 1's first movement that initially appears in m. 3 (oboe 1, vn. piccolo, and vn. 1); from the second half of the measure's first quarter to the first 16th of the third quarter, the alternating sixteenths of the motif are done in a legato that I doubt anyone today (post the original-instruments crazes of the 1960s and afterwards) would impose on the music, but which is far from tasteless.
Indeed, one value of this set is in its providing a historical snapshot, so to speak, of Bach as a "standard" performance would have sounded at the middle of the 20th century. I find it hard to fully accept the "standard" version of Brandenburg 6's first movement, which has traditionally been rather slow, like an allemande, rather than bourree-like (which is the tempo at which Musica Antiqua Koeln plays it in their recording, somewhat controversially). But that minor quibble is the most serious reservation I have about the way Prohaska's forces deal with this music. (I could also question the formatting, which gives the concertos in the order 1, 3, 4, 5, 2, and 6 rather than Bach's intended order, but this was probably done to make the two CDs of roughly equal length.) Not only is this a worthwhile recording, but it also features a couple of familiar names besides Prohaska's--Anton Heiller, later to make several other recordings during Vanguard's golden years, plays harpsichord, and one of the viola da gamba parts in Brandenburg 6 is played by Nikolaus Harnoncourt, subsequently at the forefront of the authentic instruments revolution.
The sound quality is splendid for mono, apart from a couple of spots that sound like they could have been the result of master tape deterioration or damage in the nearly half century since the original recordings were made. (One spot, occurring on CD 1, track 5 at about 6:26, almost made me pull off the road when I listened to the CD in my car, since it sounded for a moment like something was going terribly wrong with the engine!) If the pre-stereo sound is not considered a disqualification (which it may understanably be to some listeners), this could well be a good first Brandenburgs set for someone new to these concertos, and I think the average Bach loyalist who knows the concertos quite well will find a lot of enjoyment here.