Composer: Johann Sebastian Bach
Orchestra: The Vienna Concentus Musicus
Conductor: Nikolaus Harnoncourt
Number of Discs: 1
Format: DSD128 (dsf)
Size: 8.24 GB
01. Brandenburg Concerto No. 1
02. Brandenburg Concerto No. 2
03. Brandenburg Concerto No. 3
04. Brandenburg Concerto No. 4
05. Brandenburg Concerto No. 5
06. Brandenburg Concerto No. 6
Leonhardt, Wenzinger and Harnoncourt were among the 1st musicians to attempt to put an understanding of Baroque ornamentation, fingerings and bowings, tempo, rhythm and performing forces into practice, as gleaned from 17th and 18th-century treatises; in the 1950s, they were also releasing some of the 1st period instrument recordings of Bach’s music.
“I know of few more engaging 1st movements of No. 3 and not one version of No. 6 which so lovingly draws the listener into the secret motivic associations of this most marvellous of consort pieces than the Harnoncourt rendition. . . “
Years ago, the Austrian conductor Felix Weingartner orchestrated Beethoven’s Hammerklavier Sonata (an incredibly difficult piano work). A critic likened this exercise to getting to the summit of Everest by helicopter. I had similar thoughts when I listened to this 1964 recording of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos directed by Harnoncourt on original instruments and listening to Karajan’s contemporaneous version of the same works with the incredibly slick Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. This recording was made in 1964, and I am sure must be the 1st to have been made on instruments made in Bach’s day or copies of those instruments. At the time, there was no ‘original instruments’ industry, and the levels of execution were not as polished as later performances. The strings lack the bloom that the Berlin Philharmonic enjoys. The natural valve-less trumpets and horns do not have perfect intonation and ease of production. However, I absolutely love these performances, warts and all. There is a kind of honesty and integrity in them that sleek Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic somehow lack. Nothing sounds ‘manufactured’ – I feel that Bach’s vision is more readily communicated. For one thing, you get far more notes – inner detail and part writing is exposed, and the listener gets to register so much more music. Karajan, by comparison, tends to smother much of this detail. These Brandenburgs are not performed at a breakneck pace. There is a naturalness in all the tempi here, and I found little to question.
Harnoncourt’s 1964 Telefunken release, which showcases Harnoncourt in his prime: bright sound, energetic playing (not just fast tempi), with the period instruments obviously an exhilarating discovery for both performers and listeners. Nikolaus Harnoncourt provides one of the great 5-star performances of Bach’s legendary Brandenburg Concertos. Despite having been recorded in 1964, the sound quality is fresh, crisp, with a remarkable sense of presence. The performances are spirited and authentically played on period instruments. These are performances I listened to years ago which made me fall in love with these delightful compositions when they were available as a very “aristocratic” commodity.