BACH Brandenburg Concertos – Pinnock
When Trevor Pinnock first recorded the Brandenburgs with the English Concert for DG Archiv in 1982, period performances of these works were relatively rare; today they abound, and it has become harder to make a mark in music that does not readily admit a wide range of interpretations. Not that Pinnock need worry about that at this point in his career. This new recording, made with an ensemble hand-picked for the job, is a 60th-birthday present to himself, and is just what such a project should be: talented musicians relishing each other’s company in music of truly inspiring greatness.
Unsurprisingly, it reflects the increased playing standards of 25 years of period-instrument growth. Only Pinnock himself remains from that first line-up, and while the players then were a high-class team (Simon Standage, Lisa Beznosiuk and Michael Laird among them), the players of the European Brandenburg Ensemble include some of the finest of today’s Baroque chamber players, and there is a relaxed expertise about their performances which seems to allow them to communicate directly and without technical
or ideological hindrance. A hint of over-exuberant thickness in the texture of Concerto No 1 is perhaps a reflection of this, but elsewhere it is good to hear playing from the likes of violinist Kati Debretzeni, flautist Katy Bircher and the excellent David Blackadder
on trumpet that is bold and confident without straying into coarseness. The clarity achieved in Nos 4, 5 and 6 also has a more natural air than the “studio?y” balance of the Archiv set, no doubt helped by the decision to use a violone at pitch rather than the more usual octave below. The pensive violin improvisation which links the two movements of No 3 is surely a miscalculation, feeling like more of a hold-up than it need be; more lastingly refreshing to my ears were the subtle relaxations of tension in the first movement of No 6, these days so often given the hard-drive treatment.
This is not a Brandenburg set that sets out to score points, and all that is needed from us is to sit back and enjoy its relaxed, celebratory spirit.