J.S. BACH: Brandenburg Concertos BMV 1046-1051 – Oregon Bach Festival Chamber Orch./Helmuth Rilling – Hanssler Classic SCM NR. 98.025 (2 LPs), 95:43 (8/13) [Distr. by Naxos] ****1/2:
It is difficult to contemplate that for one hundred years after his death, Johann Sebastian Bach was remembered primarily as an organist. In retrospect, he represented the artistry and compositional radiance of the Baroque period. Bach is credited with writing over eleven hundred works (probably more), eclipsing any other composer. Along with this astounding figure, are the innovations that put him in exclusive company…with himself! His music is exceptionally precise, melodic and universally accessible. Utilizing complex rhythms and varied orchestral elucidation, his legacy thrives four hundred years later. This unique meticulousness and atypical instrumentation have been enhanced by advances in modern recording.
Among Bach’s most cherished works are the Brandenburg Concertos. Written around 1717, Bach presented the six different pieces to Christian Ludwig, margrave of Brandenburg- Schwedt in 1721. Noted for the diverse utilization of instrumentation, these pieces are among Bach’s finest work. There have been numerous recordings with a variety of technologies and approaches. Hanssler Classics has released a two-LP vinyl performance of works BWV 1046-1051 by the Oregon Bach Festival Chamber Orchestra. Recorded at Hult Center in Eugene Oregon, the orchestra is conducted by Helmuth Rilling. Rilling has established a benchmark for Bach chorales, having recorded over one thousand pieces. On this album, he has captured the essence of the Brandenburg Concertos and arranged them into a modern instrumental context. Overall there is a relaxed pace, but not a lack of passion. With the opening cut Concerto I/F Major (BWV 1046), the elements of melody, counterpoint and harmony are on display. The allegro is crisp with harpsichord rhythms and reed shading. As the orchestra shifts into andante mode, the cello adds to the meditative theme, but maintains an innate pulse. At times, it feels like a sinfonia, including multiple lines by the same instrument. The second allegro is precise and explosive with a feisty string section and trumpet introduction. BWV 1046 is renowned for its distinctive addition of a fourth movement. These players are capable of seamless transitions from Menuet to Trio or Menuet to Polonaise, always playing cohesively, even in solos.
LP 1, Side B showcases Concerto II/F Major (BWV 1047) and Concerto III/ G Major (BWV 1048). The remaining concertos adopt the fast-slow-fast structure of the composition. The first allegro on Concerto II is bold when it is required, but at times, creates an understated tone. The adagio has an ethereal, melancholic harmony with great interplay of violin and recorder. This concerto is known for its high trumpet solo and significant use of recorder. At times different players strike counterpoint, joining to build rhythm momentum. Concerto II brings oboe, recorder, violin and trumpet in focus. Concert III G Major/BWV 1048) is energetic, accessible but has subtle touches like a menacing cello. The adagio here is a mere 24 seconds, but the mathematical exactitude returns in the third movement with trumpets, strings and recorder.
LP 2, Side A begins with Concerto IV/G Major (BWV 1049). The opening (like all of the concertos’ first movements, there is no specific tempo description, but they are performed as allegro) and feature a lyrical violin solo. The andante is an expression of sweeping melody. Concerto V/ D Major (BWV 1050) despite starting on one side of the album and finishing on another, is a certain highlight. With a pared down instrumentation, the soloists have room to shine (especially on harpsichord). The minimalist approach infuses the affettuoso with a meditative eloquence. Concerto VI/B Flat Major (BWV 1051) by comparison is restrained, but features the string ensemble in peak form.
This vinyl reproduction is conducive to the music of the Brandenburg Concertos. The recorders and trumpet have less shrillness in their tonality, aided by the theatre’s acoustics. The stereo separation is broad and the balance is even. While not technically quite comparable to SACD, this version is enjoyable.
LP 1 Side A: Concerto I F-Dur/F Major BWV 1046: (Allegro); Adagio; Allegro; Menuet ,Trio, Menuet, Polonaise, Menuet, Trio, Menuet
LP 1 Side B: Concerto II F-Dur/F Major BWV 1047: (Allegro); Andante; Allegro assai; Concerto III G-Dur/G Major BWV 1048: (Allegro), Adagio; Allegro
LP2 Side A: Concerto IV G-Dur/G Major BWV 1049: (Allegro); Andante; Presto; Concerto V D-Dur/ B Flat Major BWV 1050: Allegro
LP 2 Side B: Concerto IV D-Dur/ G Major BWV 1050: Affettuoso; Allegro; Concerto VI B-Dur/B Flat Major BWV 1051: (Allegro); Adagio ma non Tanto; Allegro