While most serious listeners already have their favorite sets of J.S. Bach's Brandenburg Concertos and the Orchestral Suites, newcomers searching for respectable recordings at a reasonable price would do well to start with this triple-CD set by Neville Marriner and the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields. These recordings were made in 1984 and 1985, and still offer fine sound for early digital recording and exceptional musical value. Marriner's performances may not be as exacting and scrupulous about Baroque performance practice as those of Gustav Leonhardt or Trevor Pinnock, but they are informed by serious scholarship and have sufficient appeal to make the finer points debatable.
The Six Brandenburg Concertos by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) are considered by musicians, critics and audiences alike among the finest musical compositions of the baroque era. Bach presented the concertos to the Margrave of Brandenburg, Christian Ludwig, in Berlin, March 24, 1721, with the hopes some patronage would come his way. The music was preserved in the Brandenburg archives, and when rediscovered in the 19th century became some of the most beloved music of all time. Beloved is the operative word in this re-release of the masterpieces in the hands of Jeanne Lamon and the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra.
This reissue of a 1989 recording by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment has a good claim for the title of "Best Buy Brandenburgs." These performances don't have the splashy extroversion of Il Giardino Armonico or the caffeine-pumped, high-velocity thrill of Musica Antiqua Köln, but they're not overly reserved or dull, as some English ensembles are accused of being. The OAE's instrumental playing is very skillful indeed, with particularly nice work from the horns in the third movement of the First Concerto, and from trumpeter Mark Bennett in the Second; and the tempos are moderately quick (which means that they would have been considered rather fast before 1980 or so), but without being breathless. The slow movements sing sweetly–the viola playing of Monica Huggett and Pavlo Besnosiuk in the slow movement of the Sixth Concerto is especially lovely–and the quick outer movements have an infectiously bouncy pulse.–Matthew Westphal
Under the baton of Reinhard Goebel, the Berlin Barock Solisten releases a spectacular new recording of one of the Baroque era’s most celebrated masterpieces. Thirty years after Goebel’s first reference recording of the Brandenburg Concertos, maestro Goebel and the Berlin Barock Solisten perform the Brandenburgs not only with consummate technique but with thrilling verve, supreme sensitivity and a wealth of dynamic contrasts. Goebel has also incorporated the latest findings of musical scholarship in his recording, for example regarding the choice of instruments.
Claudio Abbado isn't a name one associates with early music, in light of his impressive career conducting the masterworks of the Romantic and modern eras. Indeed, he didn't conduct any music by J.S. Bach with the Berlin Philharmonic until as late as 1994. Yet when he's leading the talented Orchestra Mozart of Bologna in Bach's Brandenburg Concertos, his ease with the music and his players is obvious, and the performances have almost as much Baroque style as many versions by period ensembles of greater longevity. Abbado led this ensemble in all six Brandenburgs in 2007 at the Teatro Municipale Romolo Valli in Reggio Emilio, and the live performances were recorded by Deutsche Grammophon with close attention to details, as befits chamber music.
If you're familiar with Alessandrini and his sparkling period instrument ensemble you expect interpretations featuring rhythmic drive, colorful playing, and original insights. Those characteristics are what help make this version of Bach's perennial and oft-recorded Brandenburg Concertos so compelling. Tempos are generally on the fast side, but never overly swift, while slow movements have just the right touch of soulfulness. Virtually without exception, the solo bits are done with imaginative, fluent expertise, and Gabriele Cassone's rendition of the famous trumpet part of the Second Brandenburg provides musical thrills, as well as virtuoso ones. Alessandrini himself takes us on a wild ride through the Fifth Concerto's brilliant harpsichord cadenza.
This is a perfectly reasonable recording of Bach's works for violin and orchestra and anyone who has not heard the works before will no doubt find them more than adequate. Violinist and leader Jonathan Rees is a fine player with a sweet tone and a warm style and he takes the strings of the Scottish Ensemble through thoroughly professional performances of the works. When joined by spry violinist Jane Murdoch in the Concerto for two violins and plangent oboist Nicholas Daniel in the Concerto for violin and oboe, Rees proves himself a graceful and considerate partner. Virgin's early-'90s sound is a bit thin on top but still clean and clear.
When it came time for Johann Sebastian Bach to publish his Opus 1, what work do you think he picked? One of the sacred cantatas? One of the Brandenburg Concertos? One of the cello suites? No, none of the above. In 1726, Bach chose his B flat major Partita to start his publishing career – and once a year for the next five years, he published five more partitas, then collected them under the title Clavier-Übung in 1731. When it came time for Hungarian pianist András Schiff to make his major-label debut, what work do you think he picked? Yes, that's right. In 1985, Schiff released his recording of the complete partitas – and followed it with many more Bach recordings over the next few years until he'd released nearly the complete canonical works by 1996. And yes, Schiff's partitas are wonderful.