WORKS: Violin Concerto in A minor, BWV 1041; Violin Concerto in E, BWV 1042; Violin Concerto in G minor, BWV 1056; Concerto for Oboe and Violin in C minor, BWV 1060
PERFORMER: Viktoria Mullova (violin), François Leleux (oboe); Mullova Ensemble
CATALOGUE NO: 446 675-2 DDD
From the classic accounts by Thibaud and Huberman recorded in the Twenties and Thirties, to recent versions on period instruments, there are recordings of Bach’s violin concertos to suit every taste. Of these versions, only Mullova’s is new (Shumsky’s dates from the mid-Eighties), and the marked stylistic change apparent in just over a decade makes one wonder how many light years away contemporary accounts are from those of Bach’s day. This is an impressive debut recording by the Mullova Ensemble, who offer the aural equivalent of the Terence Conran look – pared down, clean lines, with no frills. There are just seven players in the group, and while one inevitably loses something of the contrast between soloist and full orchestra, the chamber sound is refreshingly transparent, bringing into focus details that are often obscured, like the imaginative keyboard continuo realisation. The standard of intonation and ensemble of these extrovert, energetic performances is exceptionally high, and Mullova is a fleet-fingered soloist. Her sweet sound and control are matched in the C minor double concerto by François Leleux’s exquisite oboe playing.
Compared with these lean accounts – distinctly a product of the Nineties – Oscar Shumsky and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra may sound a shade less incisive, but there’s no doubting Shumsky’s artistry. The perspective is grander in every sense, with Shumsky’s full-bodied sound pitted against a rich orchestral texture that is very much in the 19th-century concerto tradition. Stylistically, too, these readings have a Romantic spirit: the orchestral playing is more legato and ample, and Shumsky bends his notes to lend them expressive weight.
In the two double concertos, he is joined by the oboist Robin Miller and violinist John Tunnell – both of whom are sensitive partners.