Classical CD Reviews

BACH: Concerto for Two Violins in D Minor; Violin Concerto in E Major; Violin Concerto in A Minor; Concerto for Three Violins in D Major – Freiburg Baroque Orch./ Petra Müllejans, v. /Gottfried von der Goltz, violin & dir./ Anne Katharina Schreiber, v. – Harmonia mundi

Wonderfully assertive readings of these Bach masterworks; it took me a little time to adjust, but I’m now a believer.

Published on August 5, 2013

BACH: Concerto for Two Violins in D Minor, BWV 1043; Violin Concerto in E Major, BWV 1042; Violin Concerto in A Minor, BWV 1041; Concerto for Three Violins in D Major, BWV 1064R – Freiburg Baroque Orch./ Petra Müllejans, v. /Gottfried von der Goltz, violin and dir./ Anne Katharina Schreiber, v. – Harmonia mundi HMC 902145, 61:35 ****:

One fact that makes the Bach violin concertos eminently collectible nowadays is the fact that the three canonic concertos take up only about three-quarters of a decently filled disc. It’s always a treat, therefore, to see what additional work by old Bach the performers will offer as a fill-up. Here—in addition to BWV 1041, 1042, and 1043, we have BWV 1064R—a reconstruction of a concerto that, it is believed, Bach originally had scored for three violins and orchestra, hence the “R” attached to the BWV number. The extant BWV 1064 is for three harpsichords and orchestra, but for Bach scholars there are enough clues to indicate that the work was originally scored for violins. And apparently these same clues made reconstruction of the earlier incarnation fairly simple. In either version, the concerto displays the hallmarks of Bach’s fully mature style, which note-writer Peter Wollny succinctly describes as involving a subtle “linking of solo and tutti thematic materials and. . .transparent polyphonic textures.” While the concerto is probably more familiar in its form for three harpsichords, that version strikes me as a bit unwieldy; the violin version seems more dashing to me, and it’s played with typical Freiburger dash and fervor by Müllejans, Goltz, and Schreiber.

The E Major Concert, BWV 1042, called No. 2 for no good reason that I can see, is probably about ten years older than the titular No. 1 in A Minor, BWV 1041. Until fairly recently these two concertos were thought to be contemporaneous, which would have placed them around 1720, during Bach’s employment as Kapellmeister for Prince Leopold von Anhalt-Köthen. But because the A Minor Concerto bears a closer resemblance in terms of technique to the Concertos for Two and Three Violins that appear on this program, scholars conclude that they all come from the composer’s years with the Collegium Musicum of Leipzig, which Bach directed from 1729–1736. The A Minor may be a more sophisticated production, but I’ve always cottoned to the sunnier and more melodious E Major Concerto. So call me a philistine. Gottfried von der Goltz gives it a sonorous and sweet-tempered rendering that matches my expectations exactly.

Petra Müllerjans takes over the solo duties in the A Minor Concerto and pairs with Goltz in the Concerto for Two Violins. I have to say that at least initially I was a taken aback by the intensity of these performances, which seemed somewhat driven and even abrasive compared to what I heard in my mind’s ear. The approach of the Freiburgers recalls to me the athletic style you hear applied to the concerti of Vivaldi these days by the likes of Fabio Biondi and Giuliano Carmignola. But then wasn’t Bach both a Vivaldi admirer and, to some extent at least, imitator? After I had adjusted my head a bit to the Freiburger aesthetic, I came to find the approach both viable and fresh. And I think you will, too, even if you have, as I did, a sound picture based on listening to classic recordings of these works.

I confess I’ve not heard recent offerings by Julia Fischer and Rachel Podger, both of which have garnered critical praise, but I did at least sample the very recent one from Viktoria Mullova on the Onyx label, and I think her performing style lies somewhere between the suavity of the classics and the comparative brashness of the Freiburgers. This is just to say that the Bach concertos have been recorded by so many, many hands that there’s a version available for every musical taste. As for the current recording, I find it a bracing alternative to other more traditional versions in my collection, and I welcome it for the breath of fresh air it brings. Harmonia mundi’s powerful and present standard CD recording is beyond reproach.

—Lee Passarella




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