Bach: Brandenburg Concertos (CD review)

Also, Harpsichord Concertos; Violin Concertos. Reinhard Goebel, Musica Antiqua Koln; Simon Standage, violin, with Trevor Pinnock and the English Concert. DG Panorama 289 469 103-2 (2-disc set).

This two-disc set is a part of DG's series of important classical works culled from their back catalog. It features the six Brandenburg Concertos, the two Harpsichord Concertos, and the two Violin Concertos, all done on period instruments. The concept is fine, but I have to question DG's choice of representative recordings.

The centerpiece of the collection is, of course, the group of Brandenburgs, and here lies the main problem. Why did DG choose violinist and conductor Reinhard Goebel's 1987 performances, when they had Trevor Pinnock's superb realizations at hand? Goebel's interpretations are among those that put breakneck speed above everything else. They're mostly hell-bent-for-leather affairs, attempts to show off the band's virtuosity at the expense of presenting anything worth listening to. I frankly doubt that in Bach's time many orchestras would have played the pieces at such reckless tempos. For one thing, the eighteenth century was the Age of Reason, the Age of Enlightenment, and I doubt that listeners would have countenanced such hectic, almost foolhardy playing; for another, there probably weren't many house bands in Germany masterly enough to have accomplished the deed. So what's the point of "authenticity" if the interpretations probably bear little relation to reality?

Reinhard Goebel
Anyway, I recognize that a lot of people will find Goebel's Brandenburg readings invigorating and fun. However, I found them almost totally devoid of the charm, zest, delight, and refinement I hear in so many other period performances, like those from Trevor Pinnock and either the European Brandenburg Ensemble (Avie) or English Concert (DG Archiv), Jeanne Lamon and the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra (Tafelmusik or Sony), Jeannette Sorrell and Apollo's Fire (Avie), Jordi Savall and Les Concert des Nations (Astree), or the Leonhardt Ensemble (Sony), among others.

Fortunately, the accompanying Harpsichord and Violin Concertos are excellent, particularly the latter, featuring Simon Standage as violinist with Pinnock and his English Concert in accompiment. Pinnock and company play the works with appropriate zeal, yet they never sound anything but cultured and comfortable.

The early Eighties sound in the Violin Concertos is also quite fetching--cleaner, smoother, and more natural than in the other pieces on the discs. At a modest price, this DG set may seem inviting, but, overall, I'd stick with recommended individual accounts, even if the asking price is higher.

JJP

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click on the forward arrow:


2 comments:

  1. Happy new year, John and thanks for "being there" with your candor. When these Goebel Brandenburgs came out, I just hated them!! Too fast! Are you late for your train??? However, about 3 years ago I felt my current Brandenburgs were starting to sound a bit...stodgy. I realize these recordings aren't like bread, with a "sell by" date, but I needed some new input. Don't your views on things change over time? I ended up with the Avie/Pinnock, the Concerto Italiano with Alessandrini and also tripped across these Goebels, which, now mysteriously, sounded just fine (although still at the faster end of the spectrum.) Yes, they're fun, and a bit risque. And I'd never advise anyone to have just this set (even only having 3 sets makes me feel a bit vulnerable). But if you listen to how baroque music is being played these days, I do wonder if the field hasn't moved in Goebel's direction somewhat.

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  2. Certainly, Mr. Gayley, the playing of Baroque and Classical music has gotten faster over my lifetime, and just as certainly I have adjusted to it. However, I don't think it's simply faster tempos that are at issue here. It's a matter of how conductors and ensembles approach faster tempos. I don't care for speeds that are too hurried or too frenetic, leaving one exhausted at the end of a selection and sucking the life out of the music in its rush. That's the way I feel about the Goebel Brandenburgs, whereas Pinnock takes things in much the same tempos yet leaves me feeling refreshed. Still, only the individual can say what he or she really likes, so I leave the final decision to you.

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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.

Contact Information

Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to pucciojj@gmail.com.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa