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)