WORKS: Five Keyboard Concertos, BWV 1052-1056
PERFORMER: Ramin Bahrami (piano); Gewandhaus Orchestra/Riccardo Chailly
CATALOGUE NO: 478 2956
Bach’s Harpsichord Concertos transfer well to piano and the refined strings of the venerable Gewandhaus Orchestra, founded by 16 Leipzig merchants seven years before Bach’s death. The concertos probably date from a decade earlier, perhaps capitalising on a new harpsichord in Zimmermann’s coffee house, venue of the Leipzig Collegium Musicum which Bach directed.
Bahrami shows fine technique and crisp articulation in fast passagework. The lively opening movement of BWV 1055 is enlivened with high-spirited ornamentation, while strings gently caress the limpid piano line in the following larghetto. Bahrami’s facility, together with Chailly’s penchant for rapid tempos, rather inhibit subtleties, though. In my benchmark recording, Angela Hewitt takes time to shape phrases more elegantly, capitalising on the nuances of the modern instrument.
The liner notes reveal many questionable assertions. The five Concertos are seen as an integrated series – yet there is no mention of them all being arrangements of previous works, all of which are lost except for the violin original of BWV 1054, or that their order of composition is unknown. The opening unison of BWV 1052 is presented as evidence of Bach incorporating the soloist ‘into the overall symphonic texture’. In fact, it’s a common Vivaldian device which Bach learnt through his early exercises in arranging Italian concertos for solo harpsichord. Much to enjoy, but no match for Angela Hewitt with the strings of the Australian Chamber Orchestra. George Pratt