Bach: Brandenburg Concertos
This new recording of the Brandenburg Concertos by the Dunedin Consort is one of the most consistent in matters of style. These period instrument performances are refreshingly free from dogma and naturally embrace criteria believed to serve Bach’s music best. Melodic ideas are beautifully punctuated and phrased, vibrato is used strictly ornamentally, and tempos strike my sensibilities as pretty well ideal. Perhaps what I like most of all, though, is an all-pervading atmosphere of intimate and convivial dialogue in which all the strands and multifarious colours emerge effortlessly from the full texture. Gone are the days when a trumpet boisterously harangued the remaining instrumental colloquium in the outer movements of Concerto No. 2. Here it blends with restrained conviviality, enhancing textural clarity rather than assaulting it.
Among other features that I commend is a return to sanity where the tempo for the Menuet in Concerto No. 1 is concerned. This graceful, courtly dance, whose character is delightfully conveyed here, reached a peak of absurdity in a recent breakneck recording by Café Zimmermann (Alpha). Let us hope that Dunedin Consort has put an end to such nonsense. In Concerto No. 5 John Butt gives an eloquent and brilliantly executed account of the extended first movement harpsichord solo, while the Finale with apposite ornamentation is infectiously playful. It is the Sixth Concerto, though, that has stolen my heart with its ravishing viola playing, intimately expressive second movement and lightly, crisply bowed finale. Occasional moments of rough horn playing in the First Concerto did little to temper my otherwise unqualified enthusiasm.