Bach: Brandenburg Concertos Nos. 4-6 (CD review)

Also, Triple Concerto, BWV 1044. Trevor Pinnock, the English Concert. DG Archiv 474 220-2.

The disc's excellent little accompanying booklet note mentions that these 1982 recordings were among the first Bach Brandenburg Concertos recorded using period instruments. Well, close: They were actually about the fourth or fifth period recordings, Nikolaus Haroncourt's 1960's recordings probably being among the first. Be that as it may, Pinnock and his band play the pieces as well as anybody before or since, and it's always good to see them at mid price.

The hallmarks of Pinnock's interpretations have always been their vivacity and liveliness, which at the time Pinnock made them critics attributed to the relatively fast tempos of the outer movements, tempos that have now become commonplace among not only the period-instruments crowd but with modern-instrument enthusiasts as well. Moreover, to be fair, Pinnock doesn't lead them any faster than many more-recent interpreters. In addition to just playing at lively tempos, though, Pinnock offers well-judged renderings that sound well balanced and well played. Indeed, Simon Standage's violin virtuosity alone seems worthy of the disc's price. It's also helpful to have Pinnock's 1984 reading of Bach's Triple Concerto, BWV 1044, along with the Brandenburgs Nos. 4-6, too.

The point of interest for a lot of potential buyers, however--and there must be a few people around who haven't already bought these recordings in one of their previous incarnations--may be the early digital sound. One can look at it in two ways, depending upon one's playback system. Either the sonics are wonderfully clean, light, and transparent, opening up textures never heard before; or they are bright and hard, lacking weight, and opening up textures never wanted before. I must admit that on first playing the recording it sounded a bit bright to my ears, but then by comparison everything else I put on sounded dull, clouded, and over-reverberant. Comparisons aren't always what they're cracked up to be.

I still don't think the recorded sound is as natural as that provided by Pinnock on his later recording with the European Brandenburg Ensemble on Avie, which is now my favorite set of Brandenburgs all the way around, or by Gustav Leonhardt and his all-star crew in their 1976 period-instruments performances, now remastered by Sony Seon. Nor do I think Pinnock's earlier interpretations are any more lively or loving than Jeanne Lamon's with the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra on a Tafelmusik (or Sony) set, Jordi Savall's with the Le Concert des Nations on Astree, or Jeannette Sorrell's with Apollo's Fire on Avie.

Nevertheless, the earlier Pinnock discs have the advantage of coming in at a mid price, which is something, although you have to buy two CD's to get all six concertos since the folks at Archiv only offer them either separately or in a big box set with the four Bach Orchestral Suites. And to further complicate matters, since I wrote this review some years ago, DG now offer the first three and final three concertos minus anything else on separate discs they issued in 2011. Oh, well. Whatever the disc configuration, these performances are still worth investigating.


To listen to a few brief excerpts from this album, click here:

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Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

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.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For more than 20 years I was the editor ofThe $ensible Soundmagazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me -- point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises an Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio StreamLine preamplifier, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura's hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my LG G7 ThinQ cell phone, which features surprisingly sophisticated audio circuitry. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can't imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.

Mission Statement

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. --John J. Puccio

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa