COMPOSERS: JS Bach
LABELS: Champs Hill Records
WORKS: Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B minor, BWV 1067; Oboe d’Amore Concerto in A, BWV 1055; Concerto in C minor for Oboe and Violin, BWV 1060; Double Violin Concerto in D minor, BWV 1043; Brandenburg Concertos: No. 2 in F, BWV 1047, No. 4 in G, BWV 1049, No. 5 in D, BWV 1050; Sheep May Safely Graze (arr. Pailthorpe); Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring (arr. Pailthorpe)
PERFORMER: London Conchord Ensemble; Florian Uhlig (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CHRCD 014
This one-to-a-part ensemble of young soloists, chamber players and orchestral principals has assembled here some of Bach’s most appealing music. Their scholarly arguments for how they perform it are highly selective.
There’s a strong case for such minimal forces – large orchestras don’t fit into Leipzig coffee-houses where these works were once performed – but then they play on modern instruments, without continuo, and replace the trumpet of Brandenburg No. 2 with horn, and solo harpsichord of No. 5 with piano.
Only when keyboard continuo is missing do you become fully aware of how stylistically important it is, whether completing the harmony (the solo bass-line of the second movement of Brandenburg No. 2 sounds quite naked), gluing together contrapuntal strands of melody, adding its own distinctive timbral quality, or providing rhythmic impulsion from deep within the ensemble.
In Brandenburg No. 5, the piano leaps out as if from nowhere rather than expanding seamlessly from continuo role to soloist and back again. If a modern trumpet (No. 2) can’t match the gentleness of its Baroque ancestor, horn is a characterful substitute.
Nimble playing, and the Ensemble communicates infectious enthusiasm and commitment. Sixty years ago they would have been a revelation. Nowadays, this is perhaps more for pleasant background listening than a true reflection of Bach’s sound-world. George Pratt