Saturday, 20 December 2014

Bach Violin Concertos

Giulian Carmignola - Bach violin concertos - Archiv
Bach Violin Concertos; Giuliano Carmignola, Concerto Köln; Archiv Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Dec 20 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Bach violin concertos and reconstructions, in performances which prize brilliance of sound

This new disc sees the distinguished Italian violinist, Giuliano Carmignola performing Bach's Violin Concertos with Concerto Köln on Archiv. In addition to the Violin Concerto in A Minor BWV1041, Violin Concerto in E major BWV 1042 and the Concerto for Two Violins in D minor BWV 1043, the disc also includes Marco Serino's reconstruction of Violin Concerto in G minor BWV 1056R and Violin Concerto in D minor BWV 1052R based on the surviving transcriptions that Bach made for harpsichord.

Whilst Bach was working at the court in Köthen (1717 to 1723) he wrote at least eight concertos for the leader and director of the court orchestra, Joseph Spiess. In Leipzig, Bach would use some of these concertos as source material for his harpsichord concertos performed with the Collegium Musicum between 1727 and 1738. Only three concertos have survived in their original form with violin solos (including the double concerto) and for some time musicologists have been transforming the harpsichord concertos into something like their original form. The selection in this disc makes a nicely balanced programme with five concertos, two original with solo violin and one original with two violins, and two reconstructions.

Giuliano Carmignola talks in the CD booklet about imbuing Bach with something of the 'joyfulness of the Venetian sound, emphasising rhythmic energy and brilliant articulation in the fast movements and running the entire gamut of dynamic gradations in the slow movements'. Perhaps one might describe this approach as performing Bach like one would perform Vivaldi. And it is true that all the above are true, but that my first view of Carmignola and Concerto Köln's approach was that all the fast movements are extremely incisive, this is playing which prizes brilliance of sound.

All the concertos have the same scheme, with outer fast movements (generally Allegro) and an inner slow movement (generally Adagio or Largo). This means that in all the outer movements Carmignola and Concerto Köln combine crisp articulation, firmness of line and accent, with a sense of infectiousness in the passagework. Overall it took me some time to accustom myself to the soundworld which could be described as highly articulated and brilliant or over incisive depending on your point of view.

Though speeds are fast, the saving grace of the performances is their combination of sheer joie de vive with a lovely sense of the rhythmic nature of the underlying music. The performances never feel driven, and there is a nice, neat use of rubato without it ever feeling self-indulgent. This continues into the slow movements, and Carmignola 's accounts are some of the few that I have come across where there is a genuine feeling of dance rhythm in the accompaniment. Carmignola's own playing in the slow movements is superb, with a lovely feeling of a long, spun-out line but one which has a firmness to it as well as flexibility. The result is elegant and poised, without it ever feeling Carmignola is milking the lovely solo lines.

In the double concerto, Carmignola plays second violin and the first is played by the current leader of Concerto Köln, Mayumi Hirasaki who was a pupil of Carmignola's for a period. The result is that rare thing, two balanced soloists who both play with the same sense and seem to continue each other's lines.

On the disc, Carmignola plays a Florenus Guidantus violin made in Bologna in 1739.

This recording is probably very much a personal taste and I would advise trying some of it first (see the SoundCloud sample above). Carmignola and Concerto Köln's recording is one which I came to enjoy more after repeated listening.

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 - 1739) - Violin Concerto in A minor BWV 1041
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 - 1739) - Violin Concerto in E major BWV 1042
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 - 1739) - Concerto for Two Violins in D minor BWV 1043
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 - 1739) - Violin Concerto in G minor BWV 1056R
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 - 1739) - Violin Concerto in D minor BWV 1052R
Giuliano Carmignola (violin)
Mayumi Hirasaki (violin)
Concerto Köln
Recording: Cologne, Deutschlandfunk Kammermusisaal, July 2013
ARCHIV 479 2695
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