BACH Reconstructed Violin Concertos BWVs 1045, 1052, 1056 & 1064R. Faust/Various (Hanssler) – INKPOT

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Reconstructed Violin Concertos
Sinfonia in D, BWV 1045
Concerto in D minor, BWV 1052R
Concerto in G minor, BWV 1056R
Concerto in D, BWV 1064R
Isabelle Faust violin
Muriel Cantoreggi & Christoph Poppen (BWV1064R) violins
Bach-Collegium Stuttgart
conducted by Helmuth Rilling

HÄNSSLER CLASSICS CD 92.138
[51:06] full-price

by Benjamin Chee
While it is known that Bach habitually prepared new concerto music by rearranging his own works on one instrument for another, most people may not realize just how widespread this practice was. Apart from the concertos, for example, many of Bach’s cantatas have been discovered to contain adaptations and rewordings of music and text from earlier works: a considerable portion of the Mass in B minor and the Christmas Oratorio were not written a priori from scratch for these works – which, admittedly, takes a bit of the sheen away from the unctuous regard which modern audiences have for them.

In view of this, it therefore doesn’t come amiss that in the contemporary compilation of the Neuen Bach-Ausgabe (‘New Bach Edition’) there can be found a supplementary Verschollene Solokonzerte in Rekonstruktionen (‘Reconstructions of Lost Solo Concertos’) by musicologist Wilfried Fischer, of which three restored concertos are recorded on this issue, in addition to a fragmentary Sinfonia movement to an unknown cantata.

As Fischer himself concedes the constraints and inequities of his effort:

“…it is not even possible to achieve a reconstruction which follows a fundamentally legitimate process which will restore the original version note for note. The natural limits of this procedure lie in the possibility, which should always be kept in view, that Bach might have spontaneously deviated from the original in his arrangements without leaving evidence of this modification.

Fischer has “reverse-engineered” these reconstructions from extant second-generation harpsichord arrangements, given that the original violin concertos have disappeared. Not surprisingly, some of the material in these works have also been found in the cantatas. In addition to their interest as performance items, these discoveries also lend some insight into the compositional methods of the Kapellmeister of Cöthen.

Isabelle FaustThe musicians on this album, as the Spoliansky song goes, are the smart-set: Isabelle Faust (right) continues the Hänssler excursus of the instrumental concertos as the lead soloist in all the items, joined by Muriel Cantoreggi and Christoph Poppen in the triple violin (neé harpsichord) concerto. Given the speculative nature of this reconstructed music, the musicians provided their own interpretations and solutions to the “grey areas” in the acutal performance.

The first item – more of a filler, really – is the Sinfonia in D BWV 1045 (as introductory movements were called) to an unknown cantata; all that can be surmised from the rich instrumentation is that it was probably for a festive occasion. Apart from that, the music itself has been lost; there is not even certainty that Bach completed the work.

In Rilling’s inimitable style, he takes the music at a swift tempo that propels the music along: some may find it rather tempestuous, although there is no denying the panache of the playing. Isabelle Faust is more than capable of holding her own in this hermeneutical discourse, engaging the Stuttgart macht-wagen with machine-gun-like bariolage and impeccable phrasing. The crisp quality of the recording is also immediately striking, although the solo violin is set considerably back amidst the ensemble.

Rilling and Faust continue their parley in the Concerto in D minor BWV 1052R, with both parties keenly aware of each other’s lebensraum: the chamber orchestra is more than happy to provide able support for Faust’s star turn here. The slow movement, marked Adagio, has more of an Andante flow to it – festina lente (‘Make haste, slowly’), to borrow from Caesar Augustus, is the phrase which comes to mind.

Appropriately, there are not a few heart-on-sleeve moments which are tellingly delineated by the players; more of the same can also be found in the slow movement of the triple violin concerto. By contrast, the last movement of BWV 1052R is a sparkling fireworks display of virtuosity from start to end. Faust is technically formidable and doesn’t hesitate to show it. Hectic as the pace may be, almost witless in some places, even – but then that’s what roller-coaster rides are.

The Concerto in G minor BWV1056R – there is an error in the detailed track listing on page 4 of the liner notes that describes this as the triple concerto, and vice versa for BWV 1064R as the solo violin concerto – is taken with a rather more dance-like idiom. Rendered with a sportive tempo and temperment, this allows the golden timbre of Ms Faust’s Sleeping Beauty Stradivarius to shine. In the famous slow movement, she is rapt and thoughtful, albeit the thunder is partially stolen by the harpsichordist – who is uncredited here – with the lute stop engaged to lend a charming, folk-like twang to the music-making: simply rapturous.

The Triple Concerto in D BWV1064R, compared to the previous pieces, is taken with a more stately beat, although no less electric for it. The trio of solo violinists sound like they are striving for a certain homogeniety of tone, producing smart, clinical playing – cool, but without being overly frigid. Among themselves, the teamwork in the interchanging passages is very good indeed. Rilling, as he has done with Faust, again gives them their own heads, allowing them to run with the music and contenting himself with pragmatic and effective instrumental support.

It would be very churlish to make a comparison and say here that this is actually the better of the two violin concerto albums in the Bachakademie, the other one (Violin Concertos BWV 1041-1043, Hänssler CD 92.125) having already been previously reviewed.

Both albums don’t also offer much in terms of playing time. By modern standards, fifty-two minutes of recorded material is a mean offer but this is, inevitably, the result of segmentation in the Bachakademie. (The other violin concerto disc is even more unbelievable at forty-three minutes.) All other things being equal – same composer, same soloists, same orchestra, same conductor, even the same approach – there would be little to choose between the two.

But, of course, not all things are equal: apart from slightly more mileage in timing, this also has the offer of something less frequently heard and thus providing greater reward for the intrepid listener. This disc, after all, features conjectural reconstructions of what Bach might have written – cleverly and very convincingly done, I have to admit, but ersatz nonetheless. On the basis of performance alone, there are no grounds for hesitation, but the shortage of the programme content must surely raise some qualms.

BENJAMIN CHEE has had a really good Bach Year, nonetheless.

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830: 22.11.2000 Benjamin Chee

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