Subject: I have found a CD that I think you would enjoy
|Johann Sebastian Bach, Gustav Leonhardt, Sigiswald Kuijken|
Brandenburg Concertos 1-6
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Still the best
Peter G. Watchorn | Cambridge, MA USA | 09/28/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Of all the complete recordings ever made of the Brandenburg Concertos, this one, released in 1977, still holds pride of place. Perfectly balanced between the historically informed and the innately musical, these are passionate and highly intelligent performances. As Leonhardt himself said: "If you are convincing the music sounds authentic, but if you strive to be authentic you'll never convince anyone".
Between 1976 amd 1977, Leonhardt gathered together a stellar ensemble of his friends and students and recorded these great and timeless works. Among the friends and students: Frans Brueggen (flute & recorder), Wieland and Sigiswald Kuijken (cello, viola da gamba and violin), Marie Leonhardt, Lucy van Dael (violin), Paul Dombrecht (oboe), Anthony Woodrow (double bass), Bob van Asperen (harpsichord). An all-star cast, in other words. But, as Leonhardt observed, this version should not be taken as "definitive", or the last word on the basis of its performers, who simply regard use of period instruments as part of the job, the best tools, in fact, for making good music.Produced by Wolf Erichson, this recording combined generally fleet tempi with sufficient restraint and gravitas to render both the Italianate abandon and contrapuntal complexities of Bach's elaborate scores equally clearly. It's worth remembering that, even when Bach writes in the French (or, in this case, Italian) style, the music still is, essentially, German, and, even more to the point, uniquely composed in Bach's own language, requiring a certain substance in both sound and affect. Leonhardt and his players strike the perfect balance, the playing is never mannered, yet all the musical subtleties are finely etched.Outstanding among these performances are Concertos 2, 3 (the first recording where the last movement is taken at a really quick allegro tempo), 4 (with superlative violin and recorder playing), and no. 5 where Leonhardt's performance of the beautiful harpsichord cadenza is unsurpassed. He is, indeed, a very great musician. His colleagues, Brueggen and Kuijken are no less distinguished. For the record, Leonhardt plays the harpsichord (a good sounding 1975 Blanchet copy by von Nagel/Dowd) in concertos 3-6, while he conducts the first two concerti, his former student Bob van Asperen filling in the continuo part.I don't believe that any subsequent recordings of these works (including those by La Petite Bande on Deutsche Harmonia Mundi and, more recently, a fairly outrageous one by La Stravaganza on Virgin Veritas) in any way supercede these, for many reasons. It's almost as if subsequent performers on "period instruments", while laden with technique (they were usually well taught) and endowed with an obsession with playing baroque music (especially Bach) too fast, have forgotten the real reason for performing Bach's music with the means and techniques available to him. To quote Leonhardt again:..... "instruments become genuinely instruments in the service of the music". Nowadays, tempos are extreme, tone is often harsh and unattractive: "authenticity" often attempts to draw attention to itself, and there is no beauty, no elegance: no music. Perhaps Leonhardt and his colleagues did it so well that it was difficult to improve upon the result. I hear in later performances a striving to be different for different's sake. A "striving for authenticity", in fact, which is entirely absent here, and against which Leonhardt issued his timely warning. Present in these recordings, and often sadly lacking in the subsequent "historically informed" versions, is a sense of proportion and BALANCE. Balance between rhythmic alertness and musical coherence; balance between tonal clarity and unforced beauty of sound; balance between excitement, elegance and expressivity. After all, one of the reasons for using the right instruments at the correct pitch is that they are inherently beautiful in sound, although they're not always played that way. But, as the present recording makes very clear, they can be - with magical and telling results.Perfect balance and good taste are the principal hallmarks of masters in any artistic field. I believe that Dr. Leonhardt and his colleagues here achieved the pinnacle in what we now call "historical" performance (though they would blanch at the use of the term). Much of what has happened since is a mere footnote to it. So, buy this as a document of a very exciting and important time in musical performance. But, above all, buy it because it presents sublime performances of unsurpassed works by the greatest musicians of our time. A bargain."
Bach's best orchestral well done
Larry VanDeSande | Mason, Michigan United States | 05/20/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The British magazine International Record Review recounted and reviewed every recording of the Brandenburg concertos made through December 2000 during the Bach celebration that year. They listed and reviewed about 140 recordings with the first made by Alfred Cortot and a French group during 1931-33.
Seems like I owned at least 100 of those recordings in my lifetime, trying to ferret out the one that best promotes Bach's intentions and gives me satisfaction. This is the one I have chosen to live with for reasons that are not hard to explain: musical simplicity, execution of the score as written, style and sympathy to Bach's intentions.
While these are period performances they eschew the wearisome antics of poor period performance -- no wiry strings, no speeds so fast you wonder if they are trying to squeeze all six concerti on one CD, no oblong effects with old, tired instruments, no bizarre interpretations.
In fact, I would say what makes this performance the best is its moderation in all musical areas and the players near complete lack of interpretation. These extremely well-known players let Bach do the interpreting, while they let you do the listening. I often wonder why it is so hard for other bands to do this?
This is a question I've asked since 1968, when I purchased the Collegium Aureum's then somewhat pioneering period version on Harmonia Mundi. Since that time I dabbled with recordings led by Richter, Britten, Casals, Karajan (ugh!), Munchinger, Leppard, Zukerman, Baumgartner, Harnoncourt (double ugh!!), Pinnock, Pommer, Hogwood, Ledger, Goebel, Parrot, Halstead, Pickett, Kuijken and Muller-Bruhl, as well as the leaderless Acadamie fur Alte Musik Berlin, with varying degrees of satisfaction.
It wasn't until I happened onto this set in 2003 that I found a group that matched the selfless determination to uncover Bach's creation the 1965 Collegium Aureum set espoused. The well-known soloists on this set -- Sigiswald Kuijken, Claude Rippas, Gustav Leonhardt, Frans Bruggen, Anner Bylsma and Lucy van Dael -- perform their roles admirably, in tune, with never a lick of interference between their playing and the score.
So along with the other sparkling reviews of this set, I too give it five stars and urge you to buy it at your earliest convenience."
One of the best "authentics".
Jeffrey Lee | Asheville area, NC USA | 01/22/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Previously, during my discussion of Raymond Leppard's modern readings, I mentioned I was evaluating a number of authentic instruments versions of Bach's Brandenburg Concertos. I indicated also that I found the authentic style of presentation preferable to the modern. A good deal of listening to both styles has put things in more balanced perspective for me. While I do enjoy the authentic approach, I realize it is not necessarily more fulfilling than the modern. Clearly, what matters most is the quality of the performance that is given. It seems a good deal not only has to do with instrumental colors and textures but also tempos and nuances. I still stand by my favorite modern version of the Brandenburgs with Leppard and the English Chamber Orchestra, however choosing a favorite for the earlier instruments has not been a simple matter. I have managed to whittle things down to Koopman and Leonhardt. The level of play offered by both is excellent. In some individual instances, I prefer one over the other, however on balance I lean slightly toward Koopman. First, though the sound given by the recording crews is fine for both conductors, that given to Koopman and his Amsterdam players is more open and ambient, therefore helping to illuminate various kinds of nuances which Koopman seems a bit better at revealing. In general, I also find he and his group play with more flair than Leonhardt's ensemble. There seems to be a greater sense of liveliness, especially in most of the allegros, though Koopman could have offered more sparkle in the allegro assai of Brandenburg 2, and he seems outdone by Leonhardt in the third movement allegro of Brandenburg 5 when it comes to color and spirit. Additionally, I find Koopman usually more expressive in the adagios, though in Brandenburg 6 Leonhardt reveals more sentiment than Koopman, who tends to be a little heavy here....If you are searching for an authentic instruments version I recommend you try listening at least to these two accounts by Koopman and Leonhardt, both which I consider to be top notch. Of course, which performance lands in your collection will depend on your own taste or aesthetic preferences. You may even not settle for less than owning both of these fine presentations."