COMPOSERS: JS Bach
LABELS: Channel Classics
WORKS: Brandenburg Concertos Nos 1-6
CATALOGUE NO: CCSSA 35914 (hybrid CD/SACD)
The stature of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos allows them to tolerate innumerable interpretative approaches. Florilegium takes a modern stance – one-to-a-part ‘period’ instruments at ‘Baroque’ pitch. Technically they’re superb: there’s immaculate intonation in pairs of unison strings; flawless stratospheric horns (No. 1) and trumpet (No. 2); lightning-fast violin and harpsichord demisemiquavers (Nos 4 and 5). They’re characterful too: natural horns (No. 1) retain their outdoor personality; violas languish in reflective suspensions (No. 6); violin and recorders sigh chromatically (No. 4); stable tempos propel through fast movements.
Recording balance is generally good, though not all the problems – matching trumpet with recorder and violin (No. 2), drawing solo harpsichord out of the surrounding strings (No. 5) – are fully solved. One-to-a-part ripieno instruments impart a charming clarity to textures, and I’ve seldom heard three cellos so elegantly transparent in their angular leaping unison of No. 3’s first movement. But Florilegium’s lean forces reduce the natural dramatic contrasts between solo and tutti. Bach’s manuscript contains dynamics numerous enough to imply subsequent patterns of loud/quiet, and modern editors fill in the gaps. Florilegium could make more of them. The drama falters too in the constant expressive pauses in the harpsichord cadenza (No. 5). Still, this gentle Brandenburgs is played with charming intimacy.