Bach: Brandenburg Concertos (CD review)

Rinaldo Alessandrini, Concerto Italiano. Naive OP 30412.

Music, like most other art, affects different people in different ways. We wouldn't want it otherwise. My guess is that a majority of listeners will adore this lively, period set of Bach's six Brandenburg Concertos. I didn't. It's what makes ball games.

In the first place, the small group of performers playing in Rinaldo Alessandrini's ensemble does not always sound to my ears letter perfect. Not that we would always want it that way; I would take gusto and enthusiasm over absolute precision any day. But in Concerto No. 1 the sound of the period instruments can seem positively Raggedy Annie. In No. 2 the trumpet appears distant and rough. Moreover, Alessandrini plays every fast movement as such a breakneck speed, one can hardly appreciate what's happening. Other listeners, as I say, will interpret the quick tempos as exhilarating and exciting and possibly fitting with the Italian style that influenced Bach; I simply found everything too fast.

Then, there's the sound, recorded in the Palazzo Farnese, Rome, in 2005. This would seem an ideal setting because of its appropriate resonance, but the result is sound less than transparent and conveying very little depth. Not that the ensemble needs much depth when there are only six or eight players involved, but still, judging from the bonus DVD that comes with the earlier CD set, the players appear distanced front-to-back by at least a few feet. On the compact disc, however, they sound as though the leader had arranged them in a perfectly straight line across the stage.

For the record, so to speak, I thought Nos. 3, 4, and 5 come off best, where the quick pacing doesn't sound too rushed. But that big ensemble piece, No. 1, just sounds pretty loose to me, No. 2 seems harsh and over decorated, and No. 6 appears a touch dull. By comparison, both of Trevor Pinnock's period recordings (DG and Avie) sound just as lively as Alessandrini's yet far more refined, elegant, and, again for me, entertaining.

Incidentally, apparently the earlier Naive set I reviewed came with the aforementioned bonus DVD, which contains a brief, thirty-minute or so film of Alessandrini and his group rehearsing and playing, with commentary from Alessandrini (subtitles in English) and extended excerpts from several of the Concertos.


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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