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: Reykjavik CO/Jaap Schröder (violin)
CATALOGUE NO: SMC 3
The guiding light in this Icelandic recording of Bach’s six Brandenburg Concertos is the Dutch Baroque violinist Jaap Schröder. His long experience with period-instrument performance practice has doubtless been of great value to the modern players of the Reykjavik Chamber Orchestra; or so it seems, since many aspects of Baroque performance practice have been wholeheartedly embraced by these excellent musicians. The modern-instrument versions by Raymond Leppard (Philips), Neville Marriner (Philips and EMI) and I Musici (Philips) lack the graceful gestures and attention to detail which are present here. Schröder – who in turn leads the ripieno, assumes the role of soloist, plays rank and file and tacitly directs – imposes a rhythmic buoyancy, a crisp attack and a clearly articulated dialogue throughout these tasteful and invigorating performances. None of this, however, could have been achieved without the technical skill and musicianly sensibility of the Reykjavik instrumentalists. Just occasionally I felt that the traverso flute player introduced a greater element of vibrato than his fellow wind players allowed themselves but it was a small intrusion among so much else that is sympathetic and stylish.
Readers who are wholeheartedly committed to period instruments in this repertoire may be reluctant to plunge into outer darkness, yet I would urge them to do so for these are performances which are commendably light of tread, elegantly phrased and strongly dance-orientated. Extremes of tempo are assiduously avoided and textural lucidity is sustained without compromise. The horn parts in the First Brandenburg are ideally balanced, as are the mixed concertino protagonists in the Second Concerto. It is a pity, though, that recorder players could not be mustered for either this piece or the Fourth Concerto; they provide a different colour from flutes and nowadays feature in most modern-instrument performances of these two works. For this reason, at least, versions by Jonathan Rees and the Scottish Ensemble (Virgin) and the Cologne Chamber Orchestra (Naxos) offer happier solutions. Nicholas Anderson