BACH, J.S.: Brandenburg Concertos, Vol. 2 (Cologne Chamber Orchestra/ Helmut Muller-Bruhl) (Naxos: 8.554608)
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Johann Sebastian Bach(1685-1750): Complete Orchestral Works
Volume 7: BrandenburgConcertos Nos. 4 and 5; Triple Concerto
It seems that only a relatively small part of Bach's orchestral ceuvrehas been preserved for posterity. Much has been speculated about thereasons for the above-average losses in this particular field, but up till nowno really conclusive reasons have been found. The fact that so few works forinstrumental ensemble have survived particularly from the Weimar and Cothenperiods, during which the composer directed so many excellent ensembles, hasled many researchers to the hypothesis that Bach was obliged to leave themajority of his compositions in these places when he moved on to another post -a common custom for which much evidence can be found in many eighteenth centurydocuments; other considerations establish a connection with the distribution ofBach's compositions to his heirs after his death. Whatever the case, only onething is certain: that at the latest with Bach's death a veil of oblivion beganto sink over his orchestral works - partly caused also by a profound change intaste which began in the middle of the eighteenth century. Thus great effortwas necessary in the course of the Bach renaissance at the beginning of thenineteenth century to win back these works, which by then were completelyunknown even to Bach connoisseurs, into the performance repertoire.
Today Bach's orchestral works enjoy an enduring popularity once more.
Intensive study of this repertoire, which in spite of the regrettable gaps isin many ways incomparable, has led to the realization that only a part of theworks can be regarded as original compositions, whereas many of the concertosin the form in which they are known today represent transcriptions of pieceswritten earlier. Among the works of the first-named category are the BrandenburgConcertos and the three Violin Concertos, among the transcriptionsare all the concertos for one to three harpsichords, which are presumed to bebased on lost works for various melody instruments. The Concerto for fourharpsichords, BWV 1065 is a special case in that Bach did not take one ofhis own works as a basis but, exceptionally, a work by Antonio Vivaldi.
Comparative studies on Bach's technique of rearranging works have led again andagain to speculations about the possible form and structure of the lost workson which the arrangements are based, and as a consequence to attempts atreconstruction which have resulted in pieces which are stylistically convincingand which have proved their worth in practice; within the context of thisrecording these works are intended to help fill the gaps mentioned above.
The present complete recording of Bach's orchestral works illustratesgraphically the enormous musical variety and compositional quality of thissphere of his creative work. We meet the composer for the first time around1715 on his first pinnacle of mastery (Brandenburg Concerto No. 5) andaccompany him for approximately a quarter of a century up to the sublime worksof his maturity - the Overture BWV 1067 and the Triple Concerto BWV1044.
The origin anddevelopment of the solo concerto is closely tied in with the creative work ofItalian composers such as Giuseppe Torelli, Tomaso Albinoni and above allAntonio Vivaldi. These composers and their works were taken up eagerly byGerman composers from about the second decade of the eighteenth century, butsoon underwent modifications corresponding to German traditions and styles ofcomposition.
In addition to soloconcertos for one instrument and accompaniment the special form of the ensembleconcerto with various instruments or groups of instruments was nurturedparticularly in Germany. The use of various tone-colours for purposes ofcontrast and variation also altered the hierarchy between tutti and solo whichwas for the most part also clearly established in Italian concertos in favourof a more flexible and differentiated treatment of these formal set pieces.
This more individual approach led in Bach's case, particularly in the BrandenburgConcertos, to a realisation of the concerto form which was in every caseconvincing, novel and unrepeatable. This can already be seen in the simple factthat each concerto is scored for a different group of instruments andexperiments with the constantly altered conditions of sound in an original way.
BrandenburgConcerto No. 4 in G major BWV1049 is scored for a concertino consisting of a violin and tworecorders. The consequence of this for Bach was that the violin could be usednot only as a virtuoso solo instrument above the accompaniment of the tutti strings,but also as a continuo instrument for the two recorders. Particularly in thefirst two movements of this concerto the playful changing-around of formal andthematic hierarchies of the concerto form can be detected. In the last movementBach concentrates his forces in order to achieve a bold compositional tourde force - the seamless amalgamation of fugue and concerto form. The ritornellosof this movement thus become fugal expositions, the solos become episodeswith thematic connections.
BrandenburgConcerto No. 5 in D major BWV1050 may well be the first piano concerto in musical history. The virtuososoloist is here supported by a small concertino consisting of flute andviolin which displays an astonishing autonomy from the motivic-thematic pointof view. The imposing harpsichord cadenza which almost bursts the boundaries ofthe movement was added by Bach while he was preparing the definitive score forthe dedicatee - presumably in order to remind the Margrave of his own skill asa virtuoso. After the slow movement, an intensively worked-out quartet setting,the work concludes with a cheerful Gigue, which, like the finale ofthe fourth concerto, is in fugal form - although in a looser formal structure.
The Concerto inF major BWV 1057 for harpsichord and two recorders represents Bach's owntranscription of his Brandenburg Concerto No. 4. In this transcription,which was written around 1738/39, at the same time as the other harpsichordconcertos, Bach left the string passages for the most part unchanged and alsoretained the two recorders which characterize the sound quality of the originalversion. In contrast he transcribed the virtuoso part of the solo violin forthe harpsichord, and in doing so took particular care to re-write the idiomaticviolin figurations to make them suitable for the new instrument.
In his transcriptionBach retained the finely graded interrelations between the various instruments(not only within the trio of soloists but also between concertino and ripieno),
extending the trio sections to a four-part texture by means of a newlycomposed additional part.
The Concerto forflute, violin and harpsichord in A minor BWV 1044, the so-called TripleConcerto, occupies a special position within Bach's concerto ceuvre. Asfar as its instrumentation is concerned the Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 canbe regarded as a companion work, but the history of its composition, its gloomyand elegiac character and its extraordinary intensity make it unique; it can beregarded as Bach's most unusual contribution to the concerto genre as a whole.
By reason of its mature style it is probable that the work was composed in the1740s.
As is the case