Subject: I have found a CD that I think you would enjoy
|Johann Sebastian Bach, Franzjosef Maier, Collegium Aureum|
J.S. Bach: The Brandenburg Concertos - Collegium Aureum
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Good old-fashioned period Bach
Larry VanDeSande | Mason, Michigan United States | 07/13/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Is that opening line a joke? An oxymoron? Old fashioned period Bach? Yes, there is such a thing and this is it. I'll begin my dissertation on old fashioned period Bach by borrowing a few lines and some information from an American Record Guide review of three new Brandenburg concerto sets.
"How much does speed count against other factors?" the critic asked, rhetorically, when discussing two new period performance recordings of the Brandenburgs done in today's rapid fire fashon. The critic disclosed that the two new sets had total timings of 92:26 and 85:43 for the six concerti, both much faster than the third recording he was reviewing -- an old East German performance by Helmut Koch and a Berlin band -- that clocked in at 108 minutes. "Turning to (that recording) is like stepping back in musical time by almost a half century." The timings of roughly an hour and a half for the six Brandenburgs is about what we've come to expect four decades into period practice.
The Brandenburgs I am reviewing here -- played by Collegium Aureum with harpsichordist Gustav Leonhardt and under the baton of violinist Franzjosef Maier -- were, by my reckoning, the second set of period performance Brandenburgs to hit American soil after they were recorded in 1966-67. They followed the first period set by Harnoncourt that arrived about 1968 and got the worldwide classical music establishment alternately horrified and excited. I owned the Collegium Aureum renderings about 1972 on a two-LP Harmonia Mundi set issued by RCA Victrola that opened up like a magazine.
These recordings clock in at a total time of about 105 minutes, just a couple minutes faster than that old East German recording that was probably played at meetings of the Flat Earth Society when Karajan's Brandenburgs couldn't be found. So it must be slow as molasses, thick as San Francisco fog, and as outdated as the Selectric II typewriter, eh? I loved this set in 1972 and I bought it again to see if these sounded as good to me in 2007 as they did in 1972. I am pleased to say they sound just as good today as they did 35 years ago.
How can that be, you say? It's pretty simple -- these are wonderfully musical performances from beginning to end that always demonstrate a generous measure of joie de vive. They are played with an ease and ecstasy that defies any sense of duration, period, or strain. The orchestral execution, while occasionally flawed, is mostly trustworthy and the sound of the period instruments is far improved from the poorly tuned sour strings, blatty brass, and wimpy woodwinds we often experience today.
The ripieno concerto soloists shine brightly in their moments in the spotlight, as well. This includes period trumpeter Edward Tarr in Concerto No. 2, six woodwind players in the trios of Concerto No. 1, recorders Hans-Martin Linde and Gunther Holler in Concerto 4, and flutist Linde in Conceto 5. Best of all is harpsichordist Leonhardt, an early music specialist whose line is uniform yet supple.
Not to bring coals to Newcastle or anything but Collegium Aureaum consistently play with harmony, vigor and vibrancy. There is nary a moment where you believe the players are in a rush to get it over with, as is often the case in one of the newer 90-minute period Brandenburgs. Yet they are entirely stylistic, never drag, and time seems to stand still while these disks are spinning. An hour and 45 minutes goes by as if a wisp of smoke in the air on a breezy afternoon.
The recording is another big plus for this production -- highly detailed with rich, deep sound and even a little bit in your face. There is a remarkably broad sound field before you when you face your speakers with strings on the left, Leonhardt just right of center, with woodwinds and horns in between, and a basso continuo and sometimes a recorder on the right. Considering the age and fashion of this production, the sound is a marvel. One small drawback -- disk two (Concertos 4-6) appears to be recorded at a marginally lower level than disk one.
Artistically, I think these renditions are superior to any Brandenburgs I've heard in the intervening three and one-half decades aside from Leonhardt's 1977 Seon (Sony) recording that featured many of Holland's top period players incluiding flutist Franz Bruggen, violinst Sigiswald Kuijken and cellist Anner Bylsma. I loved that one, too, but I don't think it captures the rapture demonstrated here.
These performances are at least as good technically as any of the better period performances I've sampled -- Goebel-Musica Antiqua, Trevor Pinnock's outstanding set, and Berlin's Academie fur Alte Musik's equally outstanding production. This recording is way ahead of most incluidng the massively overrated Il Gardino Armonico performances under Antonini that must take place during a time warp inside your CD burner's "HIGH" speed button.
The one minor blemish in this otherwise outstanding offering is the lack of documentation. There is no listing of any soloist aside from Leonhardt and no player listing. It's too bad Amazon didn't give you at least a little sample of the music here. If they did you could hear all this wonderful stuff for yourself and not have to take my word for it.
Perhaps this review is as much about my nostalgia for personal discovery from 1972 as it is about Collegium Aureum's Bach but you won't be dissatisfied with the recording, playing or execution on this production which is splendid in every respect."
The Old Ways Are the Best Ways...
Stephen Thompson | Twin Cities | 12/30/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I second the full review by Mr. VanDeSande. I grew up listening to this record on vinyl in the late 1960s. My parents played in various renaissance ensembles. This was the type of music generally heard in the house.
This recording is most excellent for the reasons previously mentioned but also for the instruments used by Collegium Aureum. They were period instruments. So often the old music is played on modern instruments and the result is unsatisfying. For example, Concerto #2 in F for Clarin Trumpet requires an actual clarin trumpet with which notes are obtained not by the valves of a modern trumpet, but by the air pressure and the lips of the instrumentalist. The tone and timbre of the performance is unique and not to be duplicated on a modern instrument. This comment also applies to the use of actual recorders, not modern flutes, and the viola da gamba in Concerto #6, not the use of a modern cello.
In addition, so many modern performances try to show virtuosity by playing the music as fast as possible. As Mr. VandeSande mentions, this recording plays the music at a slower speed that provides for the full absorbtion of the inner voices. Any faster and they become lost.
There is no finer recording of the Bandenburgs. Purchase this recording and accept no substitutes."