Air: The Bach Album

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: JS Bach
LABELS: E One
ALBUM TITLE: Air: The Bach Album
WORKS: Violin Concertos A minor & E major; Concerto for two violins D minor; Largo from Harpsichord Concerto F minor; ‘Air’ from Orchestral Suite No.3; Bach/Gounod: Ave Maria
PERFORMER: Anne Akiko Meyers (violin); English Chamber Orchestra/Steven Mercurio
CATALOGUE NO: EOMCD7785

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 ‘Really cool and different’, ‘a Stradivarius double-bill’, are Meyers’s own descriptions of recording both solo parts of Bach’s ‘double’ concerto, but on two contrasting instruments, one sparklingly bright, the other notably darker. These two Stradivarius violins clearly reveal the contrapuntal weave of Bach’s lines, and Meyers’s technique triumphs over the challenge of recording the additional part alone in a studio while listening to the initial recording through headphones.

Meyers and Steven Mercurio interpret the concertos as exciting competition – agitated ‘concitato’ – rather than ‘concerted’ accord. The soloist dominates, while the English Chamber Orchestra is overly discreet, missing opportunities to display the special characteristic which sets Bach apart from his contemporaries – endless imagination and craftsmanship in hiding fragments of motifs within the orchestral accompaniment; the three-note figure which saturates the opening of the Concerto in E, BWV 1042 is quite half-hearted. Both the solo Concertos come to life in their finales, where Bach abandons such subtleties.

Meyers plays three ‘easy-listening’ movements with great passion. Foreground detail masks the overall melodic span of the ‘Air’ from the third Orchestral Suite, though Meyers’ tone is most alluring. The glorious slow movement of the Harpsichord Concerto BWV 1056 is also beautifully played, (but by including Bach’s three ‘lead-in’ bars to his final movement, this Largo hangs unfulfilled, in the wrong key). And my prejudices were almost swept aside by the saccharine sound of distant harpsichord and whispering strings accompanying Gounod’s ingenious Ave Maria.

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George Pratt