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Dip Your Ears, No. 122 (Kuijken's Third Brandenburgs)

available at AmazonJ.S.Bach, Brandenburg Concertos,
S.Kuijken / La Petite Bande
Accent SACD

In a way Sigiswald Kuijken’s honest liner notes (set in the beautiful rotis font) are the best thing about this recording. They start out by putting the phrases “original” and “authentic” in deserving quotation marks. Then they continue acknowledging that neither of those things are in any way truly possible in musical performance, and that the state of performance and listening is always, necessarily in flux. But that’s not to say that anyone should stop trying to bring new or fresh-old ideas to this music, and Kuijken does just that.

Kuijken had already recorded the Brandenburg Concertos twice before he set out to record them yet again in 2009: First in 1977 on SEON/Sony (v.1, v.2) with Gustav Leonhardt and Frans Brüggen, then again in 1994 for DHM/MBG with his group, La Petite Bande. The improvement in period instrument (PI) performance since the 70s and even 90s has been significant and might merit a new recording alone, but Kuijken implements other changes, too. For one, he uses a true, valve- and hole-less trumpet in the Second Concerto and he has the man to do it—Jean-François Madeuf. For the violoncello part, Kuijken uses a violoncello da spalla (a.k.a. viola pomposa) with which he also recorded the Cello Suites (see Dip Your Ears, No. 111 (Bach and the Viola Pomposa)

They are the most chamber-music like of Kuijken’s Brandenburgs yet, with that crisp, uncompromising attack that makes his one-year cantata cycle on the same label such a thrilling proposition. (See Best Recordings of 2009 - "Almost List" & Best Recordings of 2010 (# 7).) But the thrill isn’t maintained throughout as swaying, temperate speeds introduce mellower tones. The natural horns that sound nowhere as secure as those of Richard Egarr who, along with Jordi Savall, takes a similar lilt-infected, warm, unhurried approach. (This as opposed to the admittedly exciting, unrelenting citius, altius, fortius style of Alessandrini and Il Giardino Armonico.) Le Petite Bande’s performance is pleasure and a treat, but Egarr—whose recording since originally reviewing it in 2009 has only risen in my estimation—remains the current top-choice for non-aggressively purling PI Brandenburgs.

The Brandenburg Concertos on ionarts:

Adolf Busch’s Brandenburg Concertos [22.7.12]

Richard Egarr’s Brandenburg Concertos [21.7.12]

Best Recordings of 2010 (# 8) [10.12.10]

More Brandenburgs, Top Shelf (Part 1) [9.8.10]

Savall's Brandenburgs [7.8.10]

Brandenburg Concertos, Part 1 [11.3.09]

Brandenburg Concertos, Part 2 [25.3.09]

Old School Brandenburgs [21.12.07]

Trever Pinnock: Bach Again, at 61 [14.12.07]

Dip Your Ears, No. 75 (Loussier's Brandenburgs) [26.1.07]