BACH: Brandenburg Concertos (complete) – Los Angeles Phil. Orch./ Pinchas Zukerman – Pentatone multichannel SACD PTC 5186 205 (2 Discs), 49:23, 51:29 [Distr.by Naxos] *****:
There have been so many Brandenburgs over the years that it is almost impossible to review a new one. Everything has been tried—everything. So it was actually comforting to see a set from the mid-seventies with a conductor just starting to get his feet wet, and was one of the most approachable, outspoken, and superb musicians anywhere—Pinchas Zukerman. This time period was seeing the first flush of period practice asserting itself, and Zukerman himself wasn’t having any of it. I remember very well reading an article by him where he castigated the entire movement as being fraudulent. He laid out, step by step, why none of the current (then) practices of violinists were anywhere near “authentic”, and how they were compromising themselves by adopting hybrid techniques in the pursuance of the supposedly ancient.
We have come a long way since then, and the current practitioners in this movement are far and away improved from those we heard on Harnoncourt’s Bach series, truly an exercise in the excruciating from a purely tonal standpoint. But even back then it can be said that some of the other particulars of the movement were making inroads into performance interpretation, if not always in practice. Faster tempos, more uniform and shaped phrasing, and the using of older instruments—like recorders instead of flutes in Brandenburg No. 4—showed the nascent thought processes in trying to “get back to Bach”, as well as many others.
This recording, from those early “quadraphonic” issues that were ahead of their time in terms of processing, but not there yet in terms of presentation, now find themselves in the hands of the fine folks at Pentatone, who are busily trying to remaster these recordings for the excellent medium of SACD. Keeping the original four-channels (4.0) is paramount to the enterprise and we can now hear what we were missing back then, with the results so far sterling. Zukerman knows these works inside out, and his performances are of an extremely high level. There are other SACD issues of these seminal pieces available, some very good, and most of period parlance, so an “old style” reissue in this format is very welcome, especially when one can hear the sweet and seductive violin tone of one of the best players in the world at that time. I think if forced to choose I still have a romantic favorite in the old Ristenpart recording that was originally on Nonesuch with an all-star cast (and now available again), but Zukerman lures with such great sound and exciting playing. This should be an easy choice for those looking for something a little different than yet another set of Brandenburgs setting speed records.