My Favorite Version of the Brandenburg Concertos

Bach, once more

I hope you’re not getting bored by me writing about good old Johann Sebastian. I have to admit my obsession with the composer only developed in the last decade of my life, before I was much more into Romantic composers like Brahms or Bruckner.

But I suppose, sooner or later the timeless beauty of this potentially best of all composers sooner or later gets you. What is outstanding that he was able to write intellectual masterpieces like the Goldberg variations, bring religious music to absolute summits (e.g. the b-minor Mass reviewed here), but also write extremely approachable music that even non-classical listeners appreciate or at least have heard (Air on the g-string anybody?)

The Brandenburg Concertos

Today I’ll be writing again about another one of his “greatest hits”, as the Brandenburg concertos are among the most popular of his works.

The 6 concertos got their name from the nobleman they were dedicated to, Christian Ludwig, Margrave of Brandenburg-Schwedt. While they are ususally presented as a group, they actually each feature quite different solo instruments (harpsichord, flute, trumpets, etc.), this is probably one of the reasons why they are so popular, as they present an interesting variety.

These concertos have been recorded hundreds of times. Personally, I can only listen to more recent recordings influenced by the historically informed practice, on smaller ensembles. However, this shouldn’t stop you from checking out how this music was played by the likes of Herbert Karajan in the 1950’s and 60’s, nothing wrong with it, but not my cup of tea, it just sounds wrong to my ears.

 

Renaldo Alessandrini / Il Concerto Italiano (Naïve 2005)

I’ve checked out dozens of recordings to find my personal favorite. This 2005 recording by Rinaldo Alessandrini with the Concerto Italiano (who I had the pleasure to hear live playing Vivaldi in a church some years ago) has all I want, which is mainly: fun, fun, and fun.

Bach Brandenburg Concertos Rinaldo Alessandrini Naive 2005

You just never get bored listening to this music with all the energy and refinement you’re getting from this outstanding ensemble. I love when Jazz is swinging, but let’s face it, this music is (and has to) swing as well. It is clearly visible and audible that baroque music in many ways was strongly influenced by the dance music of the time.

Obviously, Alessandrini is not the only outstanding version out there. I particularly like the efforts by the French ensemble Café Zimmermann, John Butt’s Dunedin Consort is also excellent. But I keep going back to Alessandrini as my personal reference.

My rating: 5 stars

You can find it here (Qobuz) and here (Prestoclassical)

 

9 thoughts on “My Favorite Version of the Brandenburg Concertos

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  2. Boris75

    In a style similar to Alessandrini, I much like Fasolis’ version, in excellent SACD sound. Also on SACD, Savall is very good too, in a quite different style characterized by slower tempi and more gravitas. Then I have a fondness for Karajan’s DG recordings in this repertoire, even though his take on Bach has become out of fashion in recent decades.

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      1. Jud

        Heh, you know I’ve got to put in a good word for Savall.

        The first three are very good, but he really gets into it with the Fourth. There and the Fifth, he’s as energetic and fun as you like. The Sixth is a different piece of music; there he brings out all the lush beauty of the strings.

        What finally sets him apart for me is the way he allows us to here the interplay of *all* the instruments and parts. There are not only point and counterpoint, but six or more melodies intertwined. This is Bach’s genius laid bare for us to examine, yet beautifully played for us to enjoy at the same time.

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  3. Musicophile Post author

    Jud, re-reading my comment about Savall it sounds more negative than it was intended. You know I like Savall very much on a lot of recordings, and even on this one, obviously he is a great musician. It really just comes down to personal preference. I’d still give Savall a very solid four star but he just isn’t my personal five star for the Brandenburgs.

    But I very much understand what you and Boris like about Savall here.

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  4. Jud

    Hi Musicophile, certainly no slight of Savall perceived on my part. I was just indulging in the opportunity to talk about what I like in Savall’s Brandenburgs, which I enjoy doing as often as possible. 🙂 Interesting you mention tempo, as I’d always though of Savall’s version as energetic; but I have not heard the Alessandrini or Fasoli to compare. I like my Bach energetic, even frenetic (the early lightning-fast version of Gould’s Goldberg Variations remains my favorite, despite most people preferring the second time around with more traditional tempi), so I’ll be very interested to give the Alessandrini and Fasoli a try after your and Boris’s recommendations.

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