Thursday 6 June 2013

Bach Concertos - Viktoria Mullova & Ottavio Dantone

Bach Violin Concertos, Viktoria Mullova, Ottavio Dantone, Accademia Bizantina - ONYX 4114
Transcription is central to Bach's orchestral music. Many of his keyboard concertos are transcriptions of other works and the well known concerto for violin and oboe is in fact the reconstruction of a lost original based on the concerto for two harpsichords BWV1060. The concerto for harpsichord BWV 1053 has a similar history, it may have been originally intended for oboe d'amore and Bach re-used the music elsewhere as well. Bach was a great re-user of things, many of the standard works in the canon include music from other works.

On this new disc from Viktoria Mullova, Ottavio Dantone and Accademia Bizantina, they pair Bach's surviving violin concertos with two new transcriptions. The concerto for harpsichord BWV 1053 is here given in a version for violin, and the concerto for two harpsichords BWV 1060 is given as a concerto for violin and harpsichord, essentially combining elements from the concerto's two different versions.

Mullova's playing in this style of music is well known. She plays with an admirable sense of line, purity and integrity of tone. There are some lovely dark colours underpinning her essentially strong, almost wiry, tone alongside and easy fluency in the music. To my ear, her playing sounds completely admirable with a lack of bulges on notes and other tics.

Violin Concerto in E BWV 1042 opens in crisp and lively manner, but not overly aggressive. There is a nice delicacy to the playing which is balanced by Mullova's tone as soloist. She is easily fluent and plays with a sweet tone. This carries over into the second movement, which has a lovely sense of poise and meditation. I did wonder at times whether there was a little too much hushed reverence, but the result is simply beautiful. The finale is infectiously lively. All in all, quite a delight.

In all the concertos Mullova is not too spot lit, forming a harmonious balance with the strings of the ensemble. On the other hand, Ottavio Dantone's harpsichord seems to bee discreet to the point of reticence.

The concerto for harpsichord in E BWV 1053 works well in its incarnation as a violin concerto. The opening Allegro is crisply stylish, rhythmic and convincing, with no sense that we are hearing a work in new clothes. The middle movement is gentle Siciliano which just seems to cry out for the sort of delicate solo violin line which Mullova gives it The concluding Allegro is brisk, without being headlong and Mullova shows nice control in her cascades of notes

The Violin Concerto in A minor BWV 1041 opens in an infectiously lively manner, just enough  crispness to complement the poise of Mullova's solo part. You sense that there is a strong connection between her and the ensemble, this is music making amongst friends.

The Andante opens with a series of rich phrases from the ensemble to be echoed with singing tone by Mullova. The closing Allegro has an infectious swing with Mullova shaping the busy solo line with its fast figurations into moulded phrases.

When we come to the final work on the disc, the Concerto for two harpsichords in C minor BWV1060 arranged for violin and harpsichord, I must come back to my earlier comments about the rather low key harpsichord. Because in the concert, I got no sense of the two instruments as equal partners. Listening to the work blind, you could easily think it a concerto for solo violin. It is not that the violin is over spot lit, but that something has happened either in the performance or recording which leaves the harpsichord trilling merrily along as an ensemble instrument rather than as a real partner to the violin. Bach himself used harpsichords as solo instruments in various combinations but here we don't seem to be hearing it as a real partner. But with this pretty major caveat, this version works well enough.

I have no real feel for how historically informed these performances really are. All I can say is that, for me, the performers combination of crispness, style, sense of line and sweetness of tone works well and I will happily listen to the discs again.

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685 - 1739) - Violin Concerto in E BWV 1042
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685 - 1739) - Concerto for harpsichord in E BWV 1053, arr for Violin in D
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685 - 1739) - Violin Concerto in A minor BWV 1041
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685 - 1739) - Concerto for two harpsichords in C minor BWV 1060, arr. for violin and harpsichord
Viktoria Mullova (violin)
Accademia Bizantina
Ottavio Dantone (director)
Recorded 1 -5 December 2012, Sala Oriani, Bagnacavalla, Revenna, Italy
ONYX CLASSICS ONYX 4114  1CD [60.31]

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