J S Bach - Harpsichord Concertos
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Label: Harmonia Mundi
Cat No: HMC90218182
Number of Discs: 2
Release Date: 28th August 2015
ArtistsAndreas Staier (harpsichord)
The seven fabulously inventive concertos for solo harpsichord and orchestra mark a key stage in the history of the concertante form. The set was compiled during J S Bach’s Leipzig years, when he directed the city’s Collegium Musicum, and requires unfailing virtuosity and imagination of its performers.
The contagious, invigorating pleasure one feels in the interpretations of Andreas Staier and the Freiburger Barockorchester restores the full range of meanings to the word ‘play’!
1Harpsichord Concerto no.1 in D minor, BWV1052 - Allegro
2Harpsichord Concerto no.1 in D minor, BWV1052 - Adagio
3Harpsichord Concerto no.1 in D minor, BWV1052 - Allegro
4Harpsichord Concerto no.2 in E major, BWV1053 -
5Harpsichord Concerto no.2 in E major, BWV1053 - Siciliano
6Harpsichord Concerto no.2 in E major, BWV1053 - Allegro
7Harpsichord Concerto no.7 in G minor, BWV1058 -
8Harpsichord Concerto no.7 in G minor, BWV1058 - Andante
9Harpsichord Concerto no.7 in G minor, BWV1058 - Allegro assai
10Harpsichord Concerto no.3 in D major, BWV1054 -
11Harpsichord Concerto no.3 in D major, BWV1054 - Adagio e piano sempre
12Harpsichord Concerto no.3 in D major, BWV1054 - Allegro
13Harpsichord Concerto no.4 in A major, BWV1055 - Allegro
14Harpsichord Concerto no.4 in A major, BWV1055 - Larghetto
15Harpsichord Concerto no.4 in A major, BWV1055 - Allegro ma non troppo
16Harpsichord Concerto no.5 in F minor, BWV1056 -
17Harpsichord Concerto no.5 in F minor, BWV1056 - Largo
18Harpsichord Concerto no.5 in F minor, BWV1056 - Presto
19Harpsichord Concerto no.6 in F major, BWV1057 -
20Harpsichord Concerto no.6 in F major, BWV1057 - Andante
21Harpsichord Concerto no.6 in F major, BWV1057 - Allegro assai
Andreas Staier started his career as harpsichordist with Reinhard Goebel's iconoclastic Musica Antiqua Köln, and his playing – steeped in knowledge of the original sources and musical world – has never been afraid to challenge contemporary ideas of how Bach's music should sound. His breathtaking account of the Goldberg Variations (also for Harmonia Mundi) made striking use of an instrument with a big sound and octave couplings, sweeping away the 'squeaky clean' favoured by other modern harpsichordists. And his recordings of Mozart piano concertos have an exhilarating excitement about them that eludes most rivals.
Similar qualities inform these Bach performances. Only in the E major Concerto, BWV 1053, does Staier opt for the single-string accompaniment chosen by some other players. Elsewhere, a small orchestra of six violins, two violas, two cellos and bass is the order of the day, with an additional continuo harpsichord in the G minor and A major works. Staier's chosen instrument, a copy of a splendid 1734 harpsichord by Hieronymous Albrecht Hass, can more than hold its own against these forces.
Bach's harpsichord concertos are all transcriptions of earlier works, some originally for violin or oboe soloists. They were (re)composed for performances by the Leipzig Collegium Musicum (of which Bach was director) at Gottfried Zimmermann's fashionable coffee house and, in summer months, at his nearby open-air coffee garden. Yet it's a mistake to treat these works too politely, for the music is as great as it comes, including transcriptions of the two well-known solo Violin Concertos in A minor and E major, as well as the Fourth Brandenburg.
Staier is at his most imposing in the two big minor-key concertos, BWV 1052 and 1058, where he uses couplings to make a powerful sound on the instrument in the outer movements. He's not afraid to add his own ornamentation to Bach's lines, and the addition of his own cadenzas may raise some eyebrows, but it all feels thoroughly convincing in the context of his big-boned, forthright approach to these works.
The major-key works show a similar flair, but have greater buoyancy and lightness, while the peerless playing of the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra – a joy throughout, consistently alert – really comes to the fore in the slow movements, not least the Siciliano of BWV 1053 and the Larghetto of BWV 1055. Recorder players Isabel Lehmann and Margret Görner are the stylish recorder players in BWV 1057, whose thrilling finale provides a satisfying end to the set.
For performances that are not afraid to go beneath the polite exterior to explore the music's darker, sometimes volatile depths, these new discs are most compelling. Presentation is attractive, recording flawless, and there are excellent notes from Bach scholar Peter Wollny.
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