Bach: Brandenburg Concerto No. 1; Brandenburg Concerto No. 2; Brandenburg Concerto No. 3; Brandenburg Concerto No. 4; Brandenburg Concerto No. 5; Brandenburg Concerto No. 6

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Bach
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Brandenburg Concerto No. 1; Brandenburg Concerto No. 2; Brandenburg Concerto No. 3; Brandenburg Concerto No. 4; Brandenburg Concerto No. 5; Brandenburg Concerto No. 6
PERFORMER: Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin
CATALOGUE NO: HMC 901634-35
How can a period-instrument group like the Cambridge Baroque Camerata, presumably concerned with historical accuracy, have the nerve to title its release ‘Brandenburg Concertos 1-7’. There are only six Brandenburg Concertos, of course: the additional item on this CD is Duncan Druce’s 1988 reconstruction of a lost concerto, believed to be the source of the G minor Sonata for viola da gamba and harpsichord, BWV 1029. The concerto’s only link with the Brandenburgs is coincidental – Druce uses the same instrumentation as Bach used for the Sixth Brandenburg. Camerata leader Jonathan Hellyer Jones claims this makes them ‘excellent companion pieces’, which rather overlooks the fact that the Brandenburgs’ appeal, and possibly their chief raison d’être, has to do with their variety, specifically the fact that no two concertos employ the same instrumentation.

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I’m also puzzled as to why both the Camerata and Berlin’s Akademie für Alte Musik have reordered the Brandenburgs. It’s true that Bach compiled the set from existing works, but a number of scholars (Michael Marisson, Philip Pickett) have argued that there is a meaningful order to the concertos, so to disrupt that for no apparent reason could be construed as aesthetic vandalism.

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That said, these are enjoyable issues, the Camerata playing with exhilarating vigour (though in a very resonant acoustic), the Akademie nimble, polished (in crystalline sound), yet a little too fleet and underexpressive at times. Neither matches Trevor Pinnock’s classic Archiv recording, still unsurpassed for its blends of poise and passion, soloistic flair and darting ensemble interplay. Graham Lock