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Johan Sebastian Bach
Six Brandenburg Concertos
John Eliot Gardiner conducting the English Baroque Soloists
Review By Wayne Donnelly

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  Duck -- here comes another one! Close on the heels of Richard Egarr's superb recording with the Academy of Ancient Music -- one of my 2009 Blue Note choices -- we now have this enlivening set bearing the name of perhaps the most decorated period-instrument conductor of our time. Given Gardiner's prolific discography, I was actually surprised to find that he had never before recorded this landmark set of concerti grossi, although just about everyone else has. But after one time through these concertos, it was clear that this is far from a "me too" recording. In his booklet note, Gardiner explains that he conducts only the First and Second Concertos from the podium; he acted more as a coach for the remaining pieces, which are led in performance by violinist Kati Debredzeni.

The Egarr recording used one player per part, and was captured in a rather close-up perspective. This new version has a slightly larger ensemble, and consequently a bit more instrumental weight, but it is recorded with a somewhat more distant perspective. The two are similar in projecting a most engaging sense of energy and commitment to this marvelous music. Under Gardiner's guidance, fast tempos are consistently crisp and exciting, and the slow movements are shaped with affecting expressiveness. A choice between these two really comes down to personal preference; I would not want to be without either of them. There are of course many fine recordings of the Brandenburgs, but in my opinion fans of historically informed Bach performance need look no further than these gorgeously recorded recreations.

 

 

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