Rachel Podger brings us four Bach Violin Concertos on this disc — two of them in transcription form. She performs here with six original instrument specialists known collectively as Brecon Baroque, founded in 2007 as resident ensemble at her annual Brecon Baroque Festival.
Podger's playing throughout is fresh and full of well sprung rhythms, while the six strings play one to a part. This brings tremendous clarity to the performance but it also brings a drawback of its own. Usually the continuo player has something of a background role, barely heard over the chamber orchestra's strings, but here it is given relative prominence — one of seven instead of double or triple that number, and more evenly balanced with original instruments than it can be with a modern instrument chamber orchestra. Harpsichordist Christopher Bucknall plays well enough, but he does not bring the élan of a Ton Koopman or Trevor Pinnock, and the recording does him and his Andreas Kilstrom double manual harpsichord (after I. Ruckers) no favors.
By contrast, Arthur Grumiaux's Philips recordings with Les Solistes Romands under Arpad Gérecz place the harpsichord firmly in the background, while at the same time it's a more beautiful sounding instrument than Bucknall has at his disposal. On this score alone, the Philips recording has a big advantage, to which one must add that Grumiaux is perhaps the greatest Bach violinist of the twentieth century and he is not doing his reputation any harm here. His playing is bold, precise, rich and intense, with a purity of line and intonation that sets him above all rivals in this repertoire.
Podger and Brecon Baroque make the case strongly for a smaller-scale and more authentic performance style, and their recording includes two transcriptions — BWV 1055 and 1056--missing from the Philips set, which includes instead the Concerto for 2 Violins BWV 1043 with Herman Krebbers and the Concerto for Oboe and Violin BWV 1060 with the incomparable Heinz Holliger. If your sympathies lie in the period instrument camp, this disc is a sure winner, but if like me you are note predisposed to one camp or the other, Grumiaux's recording will repay the most repeated listening.
Channel Classics has given us an excellent close-up recording as always, with stereo Redbook and both 2- and 5-channel DSD playback available.