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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685 - 1750): "Concertos for Oboe and Oboe d'amore"

Gonzalo X. Ruiz, oboea, oboe d'amoreb; Monica Huggett, violinc
Portland Baroque Orchestra
Dir: Monica Huggett

rec: Oct 7 - 11, 2013, Marylhurst, OR, Marylhurst University (St Anne's Chapel)
AVIE - AV2324 (© 2014) (67'21")
Liner-notes: E
Cover & track-list

Concerto for oboe, strings and bc in d minor (BWV 1059R)a; Concerto for oboe, strings and bc in F (BWV 1053R)a; Concerto for oboe, strings and bc in g minor (BWV 1056R)a; Concerto for oboe, violin, strings and bc in c minor (BWV 1060R)ac; Concerto for oboe d'amore, strings and bc in A (BWV 1055R)b; Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen (BWV 51) (Höchster, mache deine Güte, aria)a

Monica Huggett, Carla Moore, Rob Diggins, Jolianne von Einem, Robin VanDyke Dubay, Adam LaMotte, Holly Stern, Janet Strauss, violin; Victoria Gunn, Karen Vincent, viola; Joanna Blendulf, Tanya Tomkins, Gretchen Claassen, cello; Curtis Daily, double bass; Eliott Figg, harpsichord

Ever since musicologists discovered that many of Bach's instrumental works as we know them are adaptations of earlier compositions attempts have been made to reconstruct the early versions. Only in rare cases have the originals survived. That goes in particular for the two concertos for violin which Bach later adapted for the harpsichord. It has led to attempts to turn other concertos into violin concertos as well. However, it seems that a number of the harpsichord concertos were first conceived as concertos for oboe or oboe d'amore. In those cases the range of the right hand of the solo part corresponds to the tessitura of one of these instruments.

In his liner-notes Gonzalo X. Ruiz mentions that Bach was one of the first composers to make extensive use of the oboe which had been developed in France and was new to Germany at the time he composed his instrumental works. It is also remarkable how often Bach included an obbligato part for the oboe in his vocal works. "Based on its prevalence in his sacred works, the oboe must have been one of Bach's favorite instruments - receiving over 220 solos in about as many cantatas."

It was Albert Schweitzer who first suggested that the Concerto in A (BWV 1055) may originally have been intended for the oboe d'amore. In his time no copies of original instruments were available and performers used a newly developed instrument. Here it is played on a copy of a historical instrument.

Two harpsichord concertos include movements which Bach also used in cantatas. The first and second movement from the Concerto in F (BWV 1053) were later included in the cantata Gott soll allein mein Herze haben (BWV 169), the first as the sinfonia with an obbligato organ which opens the cantata, the second as an aria for alto and strings, again with an obbligato part for the organ. The third movement was used as the sinfonia to the cantata Ich geh und suche mit Verlangen (BWV 49). This concerto has been reconstructed in various keys, and for oboe or oboe d'amore.

Another cantata, Ich steh mit einem Fuß im Grabe (BWV 156), opens with a sinfonia for oboe, strings and bc which Bach adapted in his Concerto in f minor (BWV 1056) where it is the central movement, with the tempo indication largo. This concerto has also been reconstructed as a violin concerto. The adagio appears again as the slow movement (adagio) in the Concerto in d minor (BWV 1059). This work is a special case as only a fragment has been preserved in the scoring for harpsichord. It has been reconstructed by taking the sinfonias which open the two parts of the cantata Geist und Seele wird verwirret (BWV 35) both of which include a part for obbligato organ. The fact that the slow movement of both concertos is identical is the reason Ruiz in public concerts often replaces the slow movement from BWV 1056 by the aria for soprano and bc 'Höchster, mache deine Güte' from the cantata Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen (BWV 51). Here he plays the same movement in both concertos, whereas the aria is added as a kind of appendix to the programme.

The concertos played here in their reconstruction for oboe or oboe d'amore are not all that familiar. That is different with the Concerto in c minor (BWV 1060) which is known in a version for two harpsichords, but is also frequently played as a concerto for violin and oboe. There are differences in key, though: it is often played in the key of d minor, but Ruiz thinks that to be a mistake. He believes that this is due to Nikolaus Harnoncourt who - in what was probably the first recording of this concerto - transposed it to d minor, possibly "prompted by the fact that in the 1970's the baroque oboe revival was in its infancy, and the simpler fingerings afforded by D minor, rather than C minor, seemed worth the compromise of the uncomfortably higher tessitura (...)". There are also more recent recordings of this concerto in d minor, but here it is played in the original key.

I know several recordings with reconstructions as played here, but there is certainly room for another. That is even more the case because here the Concerto in d minor (BWV 1059) has been included which is mostly omitted. Gonzalo Ruiz has written interesting programme notes which provide the listener with the background needed to understand the arguments for these reconstructions and their place in Bach's oeuvre. He delivers fine performances and produces a beautiful tone. I probably would have liked a little more dynamic shading, but that is only a minor issue here. Some concertos are played with one instrument per part whereas others are performed with a larger ensemble. Ruiz makes no mention of that and I can't quite figure out the reasons for that difference. I also had the feeling that some concertos were recorded in a different venue, but that is not the case. The miking in the Concerto in d minor appears closer than in other concertos.

If you love Bach's music or the oboe, don't miss this disc.

Johan van Veen (© 2015)

Relevant links:

Portland Baroque Orchestra

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