Bach: Brandenburg Concertos & Orchestral Suites (CD review)

Also, Violin Concertos; Concerto for Two Violins. Henryk Szeryng, violin; Sir Neville Marriner, Academy of St. Martin in the Fields. Philips Trio 289 470 934-2 (3-disc set).

Way back in the days when I first reviewed this set, it was for the long-gone $ensible Sound magazine. I mention this because it always seemed to me that the word sensible in the publication's title referred to spending one's time and money reasonably, knowingly, for the best possible performance and sound. That would apply in uncommon measure to this release of Bach's most popular orchestral music in Philips's old "Trio" series of mid-priced, three-disc sets. The performances on this Bach album are among the best you'll find, and to have them together at so moderate cost is a sensible value, particularly now, since Philips is no more.

The stars of the show are no doubt the Brandenburg Concertos, recorded in 1981 by Sir Neville Marriner, the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, and a slew of all-star soloists. Each of the six concertos features well-known performers like Henryk Szeryng, Kenneth Sillito and Carlo Pini on violin; Heinz Holliger, oboe; Andre Bernard, trumpet; Michala Petri, recorder; George Malcolm, harpsichord; and Jean-Pierre Rampal, flute. Because Bach intended the concertos to highlight specific instruments and specific instrumentations, these pieces work splendidly as star vehicles for their soloists. In fact, the only reservation a person might have is that the Academy play on modern instruments, and many listeners have by now gotten used to hearing Baroque music played a bit faster and on period instruments. That aside, if you are in the mood for a refined, elegant, and entertainingly traditional approach to the Brandenburgs, this set is as good as it gets.

Sir Neville Marriner
The next four works on the program are Bach's Orchestral Suites, here rendered in the Academy's 1978 recordings. This is a little unfortunate because the group had recorded them a few years earlier for Argo, and the earlier performances were actually a little more lively and sparkling than these later ones. Nevertheless, these interpretations sound very polished and very graceful, and they should find much favor among those fans who want a relatively relaxed, laid-back approach to the suites.

Rounding out the set are Bach's two Concertos for Violin and his Concerto for Two Violins, with Henryk Szeryng in the former two and accompanied in the latter by Maurice Hasson. Szeryng was a master craftsman whose performances were not always the most animated but were always impeccably executed. Such is the case here.

The late Seventies-Early Eighties sound is vintage Philips, which is to say it is mostly soft and warm and remarkably listenable. Although there is never much sense of transparency about the sound, the detail is there regardless, and it all seems quite right for the kind of music and the kind of interpretations that Marriner and the Academy provide.

Given that one can still find this set new at a reasonable price and used at a ridiculously low price, I could hardly recommend it higher.


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

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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.

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.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa