Cecilia Bernardini and the Dunedin Consort play JS Bach

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COMPOSERS: JS Bach
LABELS: Linn
ALBUM TITLE: Bach Violin Concertos
WORKS: Violin and Oboe Concerto in C minor; Violin Concerto in E; Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis; Violin Concerto in A minor; Concerto for two violins in D minor
PERFORMER: Cecilia Bernardini, Huw Daniel (violin), Alfredo Bernardini (oboe); Dunedin Consort/John Butt
CATALOGUE NO: Linn CKD 519 (hybrid CD/SACD)

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Violinist Cecilia Bernardini takes nothing for granted in this recital of Bach concertos with the Dunedin Consort. Her bowing is both fluid and crisply detailed in the opening and closing movements of the E major Concerto (BWV 1042). The outer movements of the A minor Concerto (BWV 1041) benefit from her precision and clarity, with intelligent use of dynamics and an ear for the expressive potential of repetition and variation. But not until the final movement of the D minor Concerto for two violins (BWV 1043), with Huw Daniel as her duet partner, do we hear any bite or astringency to offset the mildness and sweetness, and there’s a reticence to the slow movements that no amount of artful darkening and intensifying from the viola and cello can disguise.

A mild, sweet, thoughtful reading of this music ought to be enough, especially when the tempos are so elegantly maintained by harpsichordist-director John Butt. In concert it would be delightful. But when you listen to Bernardini’s concertos against the sizzle of Viktoria Mullova with Ottavio Dantone and Accademia Bizantina (on Onyx), the ease of Monica Huggett’s recording with Ton Koopman and Amsterdam Baroque (alas, not currently available), and the vinegar and honey of Andrew Manze with the Academy of Ancient Music (on Harmonia Mundi), they seem overly polite. The missing ingredient emerges when Bernardini plays with her oboist father, Alfredo, in the C minor Concerto (BWV 1060) and especially in the languid, ecstatic Sinfonia to Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis (BWV 21). These pieces show a bolder, more expressive musical personality, one with daring and wit.

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Anna Picard