Bach: Violin Concertos (CD review)

Julia Fischer, violin; Academy of St. Martin in the Fields.  Decca B0012490-02.

In 2003, DG released the Bach Violin Concertos played by the talented young female violinist Hilary Hahn, accompanied by the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra.  In 2009, Decca released the same four Bach Concertos played by another talented young female performer, Julia Fischer, accompanied by the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields.  Each album contains the pair of Violin Concertos, BWV 1041 and 1042, the Concerto for Two Violins, BWV 1043, and the Concerto for Oboe and Violin, BWV 1060. Comparisons became inevitable.

A glance at the timings for the two Violin Concertos shows that they are within a few seconds of one another.  But on closer inspection, one notices that Ms. Fischer is fractionally slower in the fast movements than Ms. Hahn and a hair faster in the slow movements.  It doesn't make a lot of difference except that if you play them side-by-side, switching instantly from one to another, it does appear that Ms. Hahn is the zippier of the two, which may or may not impress you.  Some listeners will find Ms. Fischer's interpretations more relaxed and more refined.  Other listeners, like myself, will find Ms. Hahn imparting a marginally greater sense of fun and joy to the music.  Although, for that part, both musicians seem to be enjoying themselves and the music immensely.  This is not your parents' Bach.

In terms of sound, it's almost a toss-up as well.  The DG recording is a tad softer and warmer than the Decca, yet it feels a bit more solid, too.  The Decca is just that much glassier and wispier.  The preference here may depend upon one's playback equipment, the tonal balance of one's speakers, especially.

There is one area in which Ms. Fischer is the clear winner, though.  She has more pictures of herself in the packaging, nine for her to eight for Ms. Hahn.  One small step for Ms. Fischer.

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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

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It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa