Johann Sebastian Bach: Harpsichord Concertos

Andreas Staier plays harpsichord with the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra.

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COMPOSERS: JS Bach
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
ALBUM TITLE: Johann Sebastian Bach: Harpsichord Concertos
WORKS: Harpsichord Concertos Nos 1-7
PERFORMER: Andreas Staier (harpsichord); Freiburg Baroque Orchestra
CATALOGUE NO: HMC 902181-82

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No matter how skilled the baristas at Gottfried Zimmermann’s coffee house in Katharinenstrasse, when Leipzig’s Collegium Musicum assembled there – first under Telemann, later under JS Bach – the coffee would inevitably play second fiddle. And surely never more so than when Bach, or perhaps one of his sons, performed any of the seven dazzling concertos for solo harpsichord that Johann Sebastian fashioned for the Collegium’s convivial meetings. Served up by Andreas Staier and the Freiburgers – their pin-sharp articulation and piquant pizzicatos to the fore – BWV1052-58 pack the punch of a quadruple espresso. Staier’s harpsichord, a beefy copy of a 1734 original by Hass, growls splendidly in the driving Sturm und Drang of the D minor, BWV 1052, and with three violins to a part, plus an extra continuo harpsichord for two of the concertos, a glorious earful is guaranteed – especially when Staier gilds the opulence with frolicsome embellishments and apposite cadenzas.

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Yet behind the visceral excitement, there’s always a fierce intelligence at work. In the G minor’s (BWV 1058) first movement the closely-argued motivic cut-and-thrust is positively swashbuckling – indeed, whisper it not within earshot of a violinist, but so convincing are the performances of BWV 1054 and 1058, their earlier incarnations as the better known violin concertos in E and A minor might almost be taken for inferior first drafts. Saving the genial recorders-enriched F major, BWV 1057 (a respray of Brandenburg Concerto No. 2) for the end proves an effective benediction, albeit one with a punchily purposeful finale. Paul Riley