Dunedin Consort - J.S. Bach: Violin Concertos - MusicWeb International

Recordings of Bach's violin concertos appear with great regularity. The problem for the marketing men is how to fill the disc up to a saleable length. There are only three surviving concertos for violin, the E major, A minor and the Double Concerto in D minor. This disc from Linn adds the Concerto BWV1060R (R means 'reconstruction') which, though only coming down to us in a version for two harpsichords, has for a long time been accepted as being originally for oboe and violin, as played here. Linn also give us a more unusual choice, the short opening Sinfonia from Cantata No.21 which features the oboe. The notes go into some detail about the cantatas as the source for several instrumental pieces now better known as 'concerto movements'. The soloists and ripieno group going under the name of the Orchestra of the Dunedin Consort are all well established musicians with first rate international credentials. It is one of the joys of attending a baroque concert that one recognises a lot of the participants having seen them elsewhere with other groups. The range of experience on offer here explains why one can simply recommend this disc unreservedly on all musical fronts. These are beautiful and lively performances second to none. If this particular set of musicians has to be characterised it is their sense of being a performing group. The soloists are simply the players with the solo line; they are never celebrities as would have been the case in earlier decades when such as Isaac Stern stood in front of a top-name orchestra as a star soloist. As a convinced listener to period performances this ensemble playing is the characteristic that makes the disc special. One feels as if one is eavesdropping on a private jam session. It would be misleading to suggest that any one performance is 'the best'. Cecilia Bernardini and her father, baroque oboist Alfredo Bernardini sound like musicians among musician friends. Some of the publicity speaks of Cecilia revelling in the spotlight as soloist. Thankfully there is none of that.

The recording sounds close-miked and as a result the high harmonics are more prominent than they would have been at a more typical concert-seat distance. I did not get much sense of a space as large as that of Greyfriars Kirk. This does contribute to clarity of detail and certainly these musicians can withstand the close inspection. The harpsichord is clear in a way it never is from an audience seat. I still suspect that the harpsichord is there to help the musicians stay together because in my local churches that are used for baroque performances it is almost inaudible even from the front pews. Linn engineer Philip Hobbs writes at length about the complexities of recording in this church with this group when making their recording of the St John Passion in 2013. I was amused to note, after I wrote the words above, that Philip says, "They're quite hard to spot-mic, harpsichords. They're either too close or too far away!" He also talks about aspects of microphone placement that go a long way to explain why the present recording sounds as it does. I believe recordings are not a representation of concert hall reality but a balance for home listening and in that situation this one is very informative.

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