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Bach Unbuttoned

Ana de la Vega (flute), et al; Württembergisches Kammerorchester Heilbronn (Pentatone)

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

JS Bach – Bach Unbuttoned
Brandenburg Concertos Nos 2, 4 & 5; Double Concerto in D minor, BWV 1043 (arr. flute and oboe); Orchestral Suite No. 2 – Badinerie
Ana de la Vega (flute), Ramón Ortega Quero (oboe), Cyrus Allyar (trumpet), Alexander Sitkovetsky (violin), Johannes Berger (harpsichord); Württembergisches Kammerorchester Heilbronn
Pentatone PTC 5186 893   62:26 mins


‘With Mozart you are allowed to have fun: he was naughty and giggled a lot,’ declares flautist Ana de la Vega as she explains the rationale behind her latest disc. ‘With Bach you are to kneel on one knee…’ Yet including the ‘Badinerie’ from Orchestral Suite No. 2 rather shoots her contention in the foot. Is there a more ‘unbuttoned’ minute and a half of unadulterated fun to be found in the entire Western canon?

Marking the 300th anniversary of the presentation of the Brandenburg Concertos to the eponymous Margrave, she programmes three of them alongside the Double Violin Concerto BWV 1043. But there’s a twist. Only Brandenburg 5 retains its original instrumentation. Flute and oboe replace the concertino recorders of No. 4; No. 2’s recorder is swapped for flute; and BWV 1043 dispenses with the solo violins in favour of flute and oboe.

An enthusiastic transcriber himself, Bach would surely not have objected, but he might have questioned the benefits. For all the lively give and take between flute and oboe in the Double Concerto’s outer movements, they can’t match the entwining plangency of two violins in the Largo. And the liquid balm of recorders is sorely missed in Brandenburg 4. In any event the performances are generally joyous and unbuttoned. Alexander Sitkovetsky’s phrasing can sometimes sound a touch mannered, and the harpsichord is too far back in the sound picture to realise fully the three-way interplay of Brandenburg 5, but still Johannes Berger makes a pugnacious assault on the keyboard’s scintillating first movement cadenza.

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Paul Riley