Niklas Eklund, trumpet; Stephane Rety, transverse flute; Andres Gabetta, director, violin, and violino piccolo; Swiss Baroque Soloists. Naxos 8.557755-56 (2-disc set).
The booklet note says that the Swiss Baroque Soloists aim to "rediscover a new angle on baroque and classical repertoire, mingling energy and boldness in the exploration of rare repertoire and performing on original instruments." Well, "energy and boldness" don't always have to mean fast, and I wouldn't say that Bach's six Brandenburg Concertos exactly qualify as "rare," unless the word is being used in the sense of "great" or "unusually excellent." In any case, the Swiss Baroque Soloists do play with enthusiasm, and the two-disc set does come at a bargain Naxos price. Nothing wrong with that.
I just wish there was as much subtlety as there is vivaciousness in the playing. The opening to Concerto No. 3, for example, is so speedy one could call it breakneck, and for me, at least, it rather takes the joy out of the music when it moves by so rapidly. Besides, no matter how much the performers insist that their interpretations are authentic, I can't believe that bands in Bach's own day would have played with such haste. In any case, the group does slow down a bit by the time they get to the final pieces, so all is not entirely lost. And there is some fine, relaxed playing along the way in the slow movements, too, coming as blessed relief from their surroundings. Maybe that was the intent.
Accompanying the six concertos are the Trio Sonata from Bach's Musical Offering, also somewhat lacking in refinement, and a transcription of the Concerto in G minor, this one for flute and strings.
One might accuse the Naxos sound of being more than a tad forward, but it nicely complements the animation of the readings. My primary concern is that it doesn't display much depth or air, concentrating on a bright clarity and a wide dynamic range. The whole makes for an interesting but not an overwhelmingly satisfying listening experience.
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.
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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