Very good readings
D. Jack Elliot | Omaha, Nebraska | 08/17/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"From 1976 to 1987, the Cologne Chamber Orchestra performed as a period-instrument ensemble under the name Capella Clementina. Since then they have used modern instruments in performances informed by their expertise in authentic performance practice, and as this album demonstrates they are a remarkable exponent of this approach to the performance of historical musical styles.
The first concerto receives an animated, dance-like reading, pithy and efficient. The horns are rather subdued here, however. It's certainly admirable to hear brass players committed to keeping in balance with the woodwind soloists, but even so I would have asked for more presence from the horns, which are the featured section in this concerto.
The reading of the second concerto is very, very good, and also very, very fast! It's the fastest 2nd Brandenburg I've ever heard. Most other readings (even the faster ones, most of which are a far cry from the brisk tempo here) bring a stately, elegant pomp to this piece, but at this tempo it's more exuberant, athletic, and, again, dance-like. Schuster, the trumpet soloist, is superb, and ably matched by the other soloists.
The third is also played very quickly, and here I'm not sure I think it's such a good judgment. It's kept very much in control and the CCO doesn't by any means let it get away from them, but I'll say that this piece really should be played at a more moderate tempo.
The sixth is the best of these readings--it might be my favorite reading of this piece. Masterful, edge-of-your-seat ensemble dialog here, the old-school, viola da gamba consort, Renaissance style of counterpoint brought fully to life. Furthermore it's a real bargain to get four of these concerti on a single disc. After the third had finished I thought the disc was through and was about to shut off my player, every other album I've heard containing the first three having stopped with those; so what a treat to have an entire concerto left to hear.
Don't pass this one up!"
Cologne Chamber Orchestra Tackles Brandenburgs 1,2,3,6
James Yelvington | USA | 04/18/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I've been listening to the Brandenburg Concertos for over 50 years and haven't yet tired of hearing them in the many, varied performances available. I'm afraid I'm too fond of the music to be very critical about performances as long as the playing is pretty good and the sound quality decent. (A quick check of my personal collection shows 22 CDs of all or part of these concerti grossi, and there probably are a few others not catalogued yet.) Obviously, I don't subscribe to the idea that one should seek out "the best" performance and listen to it exclusively; first of all, it's too subjective and personal to pick a "best," and second, variety of performance breathes new life into music. So I'll probably end up with more copies yet of these 250-year-old masterpieces.
As to the performances of the Cologne Chamber Orchestra, I find them enjoyable and the recorded sound very good. These are not the most exciting you'll find, but they certainly are competent and even virtuosic. The ensemble is good; the group plays together and there is no super-spotlight on soloists (it's a team effort) though many outstanding solo bits are present. They sound as if they are serious about putting forward this music in the most fitting manner possible and practicable. (They use mostly modern instruments in order to perform this challenging music better: a practical, if not purist attitude.)
The essential question is whether this CD is a good and enjoyable presentation of the music. I think it is; there doesn't seem to be much of anything blamable about it, and it's a pleasure to listen to. (But don't ask me to give up the other performances I own.)
Naxos seems very serious about offering up important music in a proper fashion--and at bargain prices--and this recording illustrates that purpose very well. The Cologne Chamber Orchestra is a well-established group of very high caliber and dedicated musicians much in demand for live performances and recordings: not exactly your chopped liver! So you won't be taking any risk with this CD. True, you might at some time find another performance you enjoy better. That's the way it goes, and it's ultimately a largely personal matter.
The remaining two Brandenburgs (4,5) are available on a separate Naxos CD along with other Bach chamber orchestral works, and I plan to pick up a copy of it soon.
The liner notes, in English and German, are not extensive, but are scholarly. The rather sketchy origins and history of these brilliant pieces is presented, along with some persisting questions about them. In addition, there is a good bio of the Cologne Chamber Orchestra as it has existed in varying forms over the 75+ years of its life.
I give 5 stars for the quality and price combination here.