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|
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: