Bach: Violin Concertos

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COMPOSERS: JS Bach
LABELS: Channel Classics
WORKS: Violin Concertos: in A minor, BWV 1041; in E, BWV 1042; in G minor, after BWV 1056; in A, after BWV 1055
PERFORMER: Rachel Podger (violin); Brecon Baroque
CATALOGUE NO: CCSSA30910

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Rachel Podger created Brecon Baroque in 2007 as the resident orchestra for her annual Brecon Festival. They’re first-rate players, lending an intimate one-to-a-part chamber-music quality to these four familiar concertos. Their light, transparent quality encourages some lively tempos – the last movement  of Bach’s BWV 1041 and the first of BWV 1042 are thoughtfully shaped and show plenty of drive – and Podger enhances the da capo of the E major opening movement with some irrepressibly high-spirited decorations.

The slow movements of these two (original) concertos are beautifully conceived, the first played with its recurring bass rhythm peacefully relaxed, the second with a foundation of absolute legato – not a trace of vibrato – over which the soloist sings its melancholy line. 

Bach clearly arranged his harpsichord concertos from earlier works now lost, and ‘reverse transcription’ rewards us with these two additional violin concertos, BWV1055/1056. The first is particularly interesting; Donald Tovey suggested, in the late 1930s, that the harpsichord version had originally been for oboe d’amore, and its low tessitura certainly suggests an alto instrument. On the violin, the lower, darker range makes it more of an equal partner with the accompanying strings – a unique texture among Bach’s solo concertos.

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In simple stereo, accompanying strings and reverberant bass sometimes swallow up the solo violin; SACD places it clearly in front of the ensemble. George Pratt