With all the recordings that have been made of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos – and the lesser but still substantial number made on original instruments – what could possibly make a new rendition of the cycle interesting? Superb playing? But other performances have that. Fascinating choice of tempos? There have been other such. An impeccably collaborative approach to the music? Less common, but still not unique.
No, what sets apart these performances by the Swiss Baroque Soloists can only be called youthfulness – and the enthusiasm that comes with it. This original-instruments chamber ensemble was formed by violinist Andrés Gabetta and trumpeter Niklas Eklund in 2003. When the performances on this new recording of the
Whatever the historical facts surrounding the
This is not to say that the Swiss Baroque Soloists lack scholarship. In fact, their readings are very carefully planned. To return to Brandenburg No. 3, consider the two chords that are all Bach offers for a middle movement. Scholars have long debated what should be played here, with answers ranging from playing the chords as written to inserting a movement from another work. The Swiss Baroque Soloists, based on a practice of the time, insert a harpsichord improvisation, played with élan by Giorgio Paronuzzi (who also does an excellent job with the concerto-level complexities of No. 5 – and provides fine continuo backup everywhere).
One thing the set unfortunately does not offer is the earlier version of No. 5, or at least the earlier version of the harpsichord cadenza from the first movement – a shame, since the earlier cadenza and concerto are very rarely heard. There was plenty of room for them – each CD, even with some extra non-Brandenburg material, lasts only 57 minutes – and the earlier version of No. 5 is even mentioned in Keith Anderson’s booklet notes. On the other hand, the extras that the set does contain are well worth having. The Trio Sonata that forms the centerpiece of The Musical Offering is handled here with seriousness, elegance and fine instrumental balance. And the Flute Concerto, transcribed by Stéphane Réty (who is also the soloist in the Trio Sonata and Brandenburg No. 5), is a fascinating alternative approach to the Harpsichord Concerto, BWV 1056, which most scholars believe was originally a violin or oboe concerto. There may be nothing authentic in Réty’s transcription, but the music sounds very good indeed on the flute, and this work – like the entirety of this two-CD set – shows the willingness of highly talented younger performers to treat Bach’s music as something very much alive, not at all a museum piece that must be handled with great reverence and in conformity with long-established rules.