I love music.

I write about the music I like and have purchased for the benefit of better understanding it and sharing my preferences with others.

Bach's BWV 1052

Does it get much better than Johann Sebastian's concerto, BWV 1052? Originally, a harpsichord concerto in the wonderful key of D-minor, it is believed to be a second-hand work, originally for "some other instrumentation," and there are ripe reconstructions to enjoy. I have decided to discuss the work, not as part of a collection, but in the guise of different performances, from it's "original" harpsichord version, to more colorful renditions with violin. In fact, we have Le Concert Français, The Academy of Ancient Music (Egarr/Manze), Monica Huggett with Sonnerie, Europa Galante with Fabio Biondi. Two ensembles performing it with harpsichord, and another showdown with violin. Some favorites too... Hantaï, Huggett, Biondi... the AAM. First, can any of these performers do wrong? It's one of Bach's better concerti... full of emotion and passion. Let's see which is the more delicious. Le Concert Francais Hantaï and company offer a very clean, close recording that is one per part. The harpsichord playing is impeccable, perfect in timing. The sparse orchestra, however, at times can depart slightly with the sync, but overall, the ensemble performs well in their small setting. The middle movement from Le Concert is especially interesting--playing unlike the others--with a phrase style that demands attention. Instead of the "flow" we might expect from a violin or woodwind, it seems especially adapted for an instrument that cannot sustain tone. I felt ultimately some more interesting things could happen from the accompanying strings during this movement... but the limelight does go to the harpsichord. The speed and "tightness" of the ensemble in the last movement is impressive... everyone's together, and there is definitely toe-tapping energy to be found. Bach was a genius. LCF does him justice here. I don't like all my recordings so close, but it works here. Bach AAM Harpsichord Concerti This recording pales against Hantaï's. There is more of a shape to the phrasing from the soloist, Richard Egarr, and the ensemble, but the tempi chosen and the recorded sound can't match the French recording. Egarr does some nice things with phrasing, however, mixing a more legato style with a more perfect, deliberate attack. The other nice thing about the AAM recording is the use of lute in the continuo; I simply enjoy hearing those big fat low bass lute notes come out from time to time. During dramatic portions of the music, however, I just am trying to hear more... more intensity... sound... tempo, and the AAM and crew just fall short. The middle movement is a sleeper, clocking in at 7:30. Monica Huggett and Sonnerie have recently come out with a CD of Bach's violin concertos, among them, our D-minor friend, BWV 1052. It's a nicely recorded disc, and this concerto has some of the penache and verve that our friends lacked from the AAM. Like LCF, they play one per part. Huggett has dropped her Amati for this recording, and the violin used sounds good... like her more recent Biber recordings, there's a little sass to be found. The middle movement is nicely done, with a more sensical tempo and more typical phrasing. There are parts, where we have to question the transcription. Parts where everyone drops out, it seems, and the solo goes over to the viola. I like that, but do the upper strings all need to drop out so? I have not a score to examine, but the solution Biondi and company follow makes more sense to me. There's a lot to like in the Huggett recording for BWV 1052. Good tempi, very nice transparent sounds between the parts. Her extension into the upper range at times is an unusual, refreshing twist. The ensemble is playing with dynamic contrasts, but I don't always find them convincing. And the last movement suffers from some questionable "wabbly" tempo changes. Nothing awful, but my foot-tapping got confused in a few places that didn't make the most "organic" (read: natural), sense. Then finally, we consider the recording by Fabio Biondi and Europa Galante of the same work, again, transcribed for violin. The recorded sound, compared to Huggett's, is a bit colder, recorded more distant, for a larger orchestra. Where Hantaï's reading was tight, Biondi's dramatic and push-pull, but it always sounds organic (natural). Biondi is far more adventurous than Huggett, dropping ornaments like a rapper might drop "f-bombs" in hip-hop. He can change his sound, mid-phrase even, and does so with such an interesting effect. He may not exploit every dramatic nuance Bach has hidden in this masterwork, but he does reveal a few, and some, with wondrous affect. The tense feeling in the solo-passage in the first movement, which suddenly relaxes when the rest of the ensemble comes in is well-done. This is a creative interpretation, and among Biondi's better work, this is likely one of his best on record. His little tongue-in-cheek effects added like extra scroll-work on a baroque façade are extra treats. He's a master. In all, Bach wrote a great concerto. Biondi and the others all made great recordings, but someone had to be the least interesting. For me, it was Egarr with the AAM. Biondi wins on the flair, especially so, too, in the middle movement which isn't the most interesting of the three. But his sound rises above the accompaniment. He chose good tempos. But Hantaï has a fine rendition on harpsichord, tight, and energetic. And Huggett's new disc is good, this the opening number, well-recorded and a tad sassy--but not overdone to Biondi's extreme. I like them all. One for a desert island? Unfair, each disc has such great musical treasures. But if I could only have one BWV 1052, Biondi and Europa Galante say more with Bach's notes. Oh, to wonder what JSB would have thought!

Huggett performs Bach

Bach: Violin Sonatas and Partitas - Kremer