Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos: European Brandenburg Ensemble/Trevor Pinnock

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Bach
Brandenburg Concertos:
No.1 in F, BWV1046
No.2 in F, BWV1047
No.3 in G, BWV1048
No.4 in G, BWV1049
No.5 in D, BWV1050
No.6 in B flat, BWV1051

European Brandenburg Ensemble
Trevor Pinnock (harpsichord)

Recorded 16-18 December 2006 & 2-5 January 2007 in the Ballroom at Sheffield City Hall, Sheffield, England, and 29-30 September 2007 in Henry Wood Hall, London


Reviewed by: William Yeoman

Reviewed: December 2007
CD No: AVIE RECORDS
AV 2119 (2 CDs)
Duration: 1 hour 34 minutes

 

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Even though he probably considered it a moral duty to use the gifts God gave him to the utmost, like Picasso and W. H. Auden after him J. S. Bach was a tireless innovator, reinterpreting traditional forms in ways that, paradoxically, seemed to his contemporaries simultaneously archaic and avant-garde.

It is in response to Bach’s “sense of daring and subversion” that Trevor Pinnock has decided to revisit the Brandenburg Concertos a quarter of a century after his superb, but perhaps more straightlaced, recording with the English Concert for Archiv Produktion. Assembling a band comprising some of the best period-instrument players from both Europe and the UK, Pinnock first “workshopped” the concertos at Sheffield University before performances and recordings. Sadly, following the first day of what was to be a week of public and private rehearsals and lectures, the ensemble’s principal violist Katherine McGillivray passed away. It was decided that the project should continue nevertheless, and this recording is dedicated to her memory.

Trevor Pinnock. ©Clive BardaThroughout, the playing of the European Brandenburg Ensemble, led from the harpsichord with precision and flair by Pinnock, is stylish and exuberant. Concerto No.1 is a riot of colour, the horns, oboes, bassoon and violino piccolo (a violin pitched a third higher than normal) dancing with bucolic glee over strings and continuo, while the darker hues of No.3 (scored for a nonet of strings) are answered by No.6, also for strings and continuo but this time featuring two violas da gamba. Flautist Katie Bircher in Concerto No.5, trumpet-player David Blackadder in Concerto No.2 and violinist Kati Debretzeni in Concerto No.4 are outstanding (as, indeed, are all the soloists), combining a sensitivity to the corporate sound while playing with much fluidity of phrase.

This wonderful recording is a fitting tribute to both the memory of Katherine McGillivray and Pinnock’s continuing commitment to combining scholarship with a lively, imaginative approach to performance. As he says in the final paragraph of his booklet note: “The science of music making is always important but it is not an end in itself . While we have eagerly explored elements of new scholarship in our performances, they remain fundamentally a celebration of music and life.”

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