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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685 - 1750): "The Best of Bach in B minor"

Ensemble Schönbrunn

rec: Sept 2010, Hamburg, Museum für Kunst und Gewerbea; Jan 2011, Bunnik, De Oude Dorpskerkb
Globe - GLO 5243 (© 2011) (61'15")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover & track-list

Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 in D (1st version) (BWV 1050a)b; Non sa che sia dolore, cantata (BWV 209) (sinfonia)b; Overture for transverse flute, strings and bc in b minor (BWV 1067)b; Sonata for harpsichord and transverse flute in b minor (BWV 1030)a

Marten Root, transverse flute; Johannes Leertouwer, Anneke van Haaften, violin; Antoinette Lohmann, viola; Viola de Hoog, bass violin; Menno van Delft, harpsichord

In the year 2011 the Ensemble Schönbrunn celebrated its 25 anniversary. This chamber music group, which can be extended to a small chamber orchestra, plays mainly music of the 18th and 19th century on period instruments. At the occasion of its anniversary the present disc was recorded. It comes with a second disc which includes extracts from its previous recordings as well as a snippet from a recording which will be released at the end of 2012, with music by Debussy. The booklet of the second disc has a list of all recordings which have been made so far. It shows that the music of the classical and early romantic period dominate its recording activities, and that is just as well.

As understandable as it is that musicians wish to make a recording with music by Bach, I can't honestly see a reason why many people should purchase this disc. All the pieces which are performed are available in other recordings. That includes the early version of the Brandenburg Concerto No. 5, even though obviously the later version is much more popular and more frequently recorded. The performances are not very engaging, and in all cases I know interpretations which are vastly more captivating and interesting. The title of this disc is rather intriguing: "The Best of Bach in B minor". The only piece whose key is neither given in the track-list nor in the liner-notes is the Brandenburg Concerto No. 5. The reason is that it is not in B minor, but rather in D major ...

There are various reasons why this recording is not very engaging. The tempi are mostly too moderate, like some of the dances in the Overture in b minor (rondeau, polonoise). Because of that they don't feel like real dances, and that is also due to the lack of dynamic accents. Moreover, too little attention has been payed to the hierarchy of the notes. The lack of dynamic shading also makes the Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 sounding rather flat. The first version of this concerto which is played here has a much shorter but still brilliant harpsichord cadenza in the first movement. It is given a good reading by Menno van Delft.

The disc opens with the sinfonia from the cantata Non sa che sia dolore (BWV 209). It is one of Bach's most popular pieces, but there was nothing which caught my ear. The Sonata in b minor (BWV 1030) for harpsichord and transverse flute is another of Bach's popular works. Its main interest in this recording is that Marten Root plays a historical instrument, a flute by Jacob Denner which dates from around 1725 and was made available to him by a German collector. For the recording of this sonata Root and Van Delft went to the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe in Hamburg, which owns a beautiful harpsichord by Christian Zell of 1728. It must be inspiring for musicians to play such brilliant instruments. Unfortunately it hasn't resulted in a performance which makes a lasting impression.

The assessment of performances like these depends on what one considers to be the style of the baroque period. Those who regularly read the reviews on this site will know that for me the recordings of the late Musica antiqua Köln are pretty close to what I consider ideal performances of German baroque music. Not everyone will share that preference. Some may prefer a more restrained interpretation. That is what you get here. That said, I firmly believe that this is not the way to go in the interpretation of baroque music. This repertoire is more captivating and more dramatic and includes stronger contrasts than this recording suggests.

Johan van Veen (© 2012)

Relevant links:

Ensemble Schönbrunn

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