WORKS: Concertos, BWV 1044, 1050a & 1063, 1064, 1065
PERFORMER: Robert Levin, Mario Videla, Michael Behringer, Boris Kleiner (harpsichord), Jean-Claude Gérard (flute), Isabelle Faust (violin); Bach-Collegium Stuttgart/Helmuth Rilling
CATALOGUE NO: CD 92.130
Even before the Bach anniversary year, recordings of the composer’s harpsichord concertos were thick upon the ground. There are versions with period or modern instruments, single or multiple strings and I don’t think I would steer readers away from any of them. But the various choices are not necessarily of equal merit, any more than their respective strengths are evenly distributed throughout a particular set. Two of the three contenders under scrutiny here are drawn from complete sets, either already issued (Naxos) or in the process of being issued (Hänssler). The third with Trevor Pinnock and the English Concert is now reissued alongside Bach’s three violin concertos, the Triple Concerto, the Oboe and Violin Concerto and the Oboe d’amore Concerto. Both these last mentioned are conjectural reconstructions which, nevertheless, have been accepted without serious challenge as part of the genuine Bach canon.
The Naxos performances, like Hänssler’s, are on modern instruments at modern pitch. Both sets field a strong line-up of keyboard players for the multiple harpsichord concertos, with Robert Hill (Naxos) and Robert Levin (Hänssler) proving to be the brightest constellations. Isabelle Faust’s violin-playing in the Triple Concerto (Hänssler) is a further attraction. Generally speaking, where these two are concerned, my preference lies with the Naxos set. Helmut Müller-Brühl’s admittedly middle-of-the-road approach may be more conservative than Rilling’s brighter, more spikily articulated performances, though it is also more lyrical, allowing the soloists to speak with greater clarity and inflective charm. But the outright winner here is the English Concert set, where the solo line-up of Pinnock, Kenneth Gilbert, Lars Ulrik Mortensen and Nicholas Kraemer knocks spots off the competition. The violin concertos with soloist Simon Standage, who is joined by Elizabeth Wilcock in the Double Concerto, also come over well, while flautist Lisa Beznosiuk and oboist David Reichenberg contribute rewardingly to a first-rate reissue.