The Brandenburg Concertos – Orchestra Mozart/Abbado

0 of 5 stars

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

Orchestra Mozart
Claudio Abbado

Recorded 21 April 2007 in Teatro Municipale, Romolo Valli, Reggio Emilia, Italy

Reviewed by: Antony Hodgson

Reviewed: February 2011
CD No: DG 477 8909 (2 CDs)
Duration: 91 minutes



When reviewing Riccardo Chailly’s recording of the Brandenburg Concertos, I suggested that it was now unusual to have recordings of Bach’s music played by orchestras using modern instruments, yet here we have Claudio Abbado taking the same approach and once again I am impressed by a conductor’s ability to present the essence of Bach when using today’s techniques. Abbado’s musicians play at today’s pitch but the ensemble does include two violas da gamba and two recorders; the bass line is played on violone rather than double bass.

Solutions to long-standing points of discussion are solved clearly and satisfactorily; for example, some sort of link has to be made between the first and last movements of Concerto No.3 and here a stylish, brief harpsichord improvisation is provided. The ensuing finale is one of the neatest (and also swiftest) performances that I know.

Such lightness, allied to elegantly sprung rhythms, typifies the nature of all the performances. It seems often to be achieved by stressing the first beat of the bar. Only once does this slight emphasis seem strange: in the last movement of No.1 and somehow Abbado contrives to make the Minuet sound like a waltz. The effect is rather charming but does not seem to reflect baroque style. Unlike Chailly, Abbado does not make the repeats of the Minuet when it returns between the intervening sections (either decision is musically acceptable); he does however add a little flourish to lead back to the Minuet at each return. This work provides the horn-players with much opportunity to display their remarkable skills. Lightness of touch and crispness of articulation gives the textures transparency. The music dances its way gracefully, appropriately so as the music has its origin in dance.

Another discussion point is to be found in No.2 with its concertante group of trumpet, flute, oboe and violin where balance is a fiendish problem in concert performances – and these recordings are live. The saving grace is once again lightness of touch – the trumpet cannot be soft but the crispness of the performance ensures that it is not insistent – the bright, assertive oboe makes an ideal foil. The precise articulation of the violone etches out the bass line lucidly.

Balancing of instruments in Nos. 4 and 5 is almost as successful but the harpsichord does seem a little distant in No.5 – even in its spectacular cadenza during the opening movement. This instrument also lacks presence when providing continuo in some of the other works – I always find it strange how harpsichords used to be balanced much more satisfactorily in recordings made forty and more years ago. No.4 features two very brightly-toned recorders with a solo violinist whose delicate approach is suitable in every way – his flying accompanying scales in the opening Allegro are effortless.

The advantage of Abbado’s delicate approach with its crisp bass lines and precise string articulation is very much in evidence in Concerto No.6. Often the scoring, which excludes violins and gives most of the melodic material to the violas, can sound very thick but here every line is defined with the utmost clarity. I find this to be an almost ideal presentation of the concerto except, unfortunately, the harpsichord is even fainter here than in the other works. The dark texture of the music really would have benefitted from infiltration of the brighter tones of the keyboard.

Altogether though this is a satisfying, cultured representation of the Brandenburg Concertos – the clarity is immaculate and, keyboard continuo apart, the balance is superb. Phrasing is subtle; tempos are well-chosen and well-sustained; only the minimum of vibrato is used by the string players. There are a few unmarked dynamic changes but they are always musically convincing. It is a pity about the unnecessary retention of applause but at least it is respectful and not too intrusive.

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