Francesco Corti Plays Bach Harpsichord Concerti – A True Delight

Bach Harpsichord Concertos

In more than 5 years of this blog, I’ve only formally reviewed one version of the Bach piano/harpsichord concertos, the very surprisingly disappointing (to my ears) recording with Andreas Staier.

In that article I mentioned that I’m still looking for my favorite version of these beautiful works. So far I typically went with Cafe Zimmermann’s recordings that I haven’t reviewed yet individually.

So, what was wrong (again, IMHO) with the Staier recording? Well, Gramophone at the time summarised it nicely: “If you’re looking for fun, abandon, lyricism, radiant lift off […] and luminosity, then maybe this one is not for you“.

And yes, that’s exactly what I was looking for. And it seems like I finally found it.

Bach: Harpsichord Concertos vol. 1 & 2 – Francesco Corti – Il Pomo d’Oro (Pentatone 2020/2021)

For some reason, I missed the release of vol. 1 of these two separate albums back last year, and really only fully discovered this when vol. 2 was released some days ago.

Bach: Harpsichord concertos Francesco Corti Il Pomo d'oro Pentatone 2020 24 96
Bach: Francesco Corti Harpsichord Concertos II Il Pomo d'oro Pentatone 2021 24 192

Francesco Corti is a well known Italian organ and harpsichord player, and Il Pomo d’Oro is a recently (2012) founded ensemble specialized in baroque music.

Both bring together two recordings that are playful, enjoyable, bouncy, lively, and engaging. Very much the opposite of the somewhat dull Andreas Staier recording.

Is it perfect? Well, no. Corti and the ensemble occasionally have some quirks, particularly with regards to tempo selection in some parts.

But, to quote Duke Ellington, It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing. And swing there is, plenty. It is just a sheer pleasure to listen to. And that, to me at least, is worth more than technical perfection.

Therefore, this may well become my new go-to version for these works I bought both volumes immediately, which I encourage you to do as well.

My rating: 5 stars

You can find it here (vol. 1) and here (vol. 2)

A Disappointment From Andreas Staier – How Can That Be? – My Review of the Bach Harpsichord Concertos

Andreas Staier

Let me start by pointing out that I’m a big fan of Andreas Staier. I’ve praised his Diabelli Variations here, I like his approach to Mozart and Schumann, as well as his album “Pour Passer la Mélancholie”. His 2012 album of the 6 piano concertos by Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach is outstanding.

Freiburger Barockorchester

The same goes for the Freiburger Barockorchester (who joins Staier on excellent the CPE Bach album above). Their recording of the Bach Orchestral Suites is my go-to version, and the recently started Schumann cycle with Isabelle Faust, Alexander Melnikov and Jean-Guihen Queyras (more about the Melnikov in the next days) is very very good.

The Bach “Piano” concertos

Bach wrote quite a number of concertos for harpsichord. As was not unusual at the time, several of them were probably recycled from other sources, e.g. other solo concertos or cantatas. You’ll find concertos for 1-4(!) soloists.

So far, I still haven’t found “my” version. My currently preferred versions are the 2011 Linn recording of the Retrospect Ensemble with Matthew Halls conducting and playing, Pierre Hantai’s slightly idiosyncratic but very interesting version with Le Concert Français (see my review of his Goldberg variations here), and most of all Café Zimmermann’s energetic readings, which are unfortunately spread over 6 albums (all worth getting anyhow!) and only have the concertos with several instruments.

Therefore, when I heard about this recording by Staier with the Freiburger, I was very excited and already had it on pre-order. Luckily, I was distracted, didn’t get to click on buy, and therefore ended up listening to it on Qobuz streaming first.

Bach: Harpsichord Concertos - Andreas Staier - Freiburger Barockorchester - Harmonia Mundi 2015

I’m happy I did, because at this stage I don’t think I will end up buying this album.Maybe it was just that I was expecting too much, but my “inner ear” has a very different idea on how these concertos should sound.

It pains me to write critical words about musicians that I admire very much, but the album generally sounds a bit heavy and slow, and does not at all the lightweight “swing” I so much love about most recent Historically Informed Performances.

In a way this reminds me of Karl Richter’s way of playing Bach. There is obviously nothing wrong with approaching the music this way, it is just really not my cup of tea.

Obviously this approach, and the sometimes slower tempi also allow for more nuances and there are very beautiful moments in this album, e.g. in the Largo of BWV1056.

But most of the time, this is not for me.

Overall rating: 3 stars. I really didn’t expect ever to give such a relatively low rating to these outstanding musicians. is it just me? I’d really love to hear your feedback especially if you disagree!

EDIT August 28, 2015: I seem to be the odd one out here with my opinion. Classica “Choc”, 5 stars from Diapason, 5 stars from the Guardian. So be warned, I may just be a crazy lunatic in not particularly liking this album. I’d appreciate even more your feedback on this, as after 4 more listenings, I stand by my opinion. Please tell me if I need a new pair of ears!

EDIT Oct 11, 2015: Just reading the review in the October issue of Gramophone, and at least Jonathan Freeman-Atwood seems to have heard what I’ve heard. To quote: “If you’re looking for fun, abandon, lyricism, radiant lift off […] and luminosity, then maybe this one is not for you”. He’s spot on, that’s exactly what’s lacking for me.

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