Bach - Brandenburg Concertos / Il Giardino armonico
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Il Giardino Armonico is an original instruments group made up of skilled young Italian specialists in Baroque music. They bring a light, airy touch to the Brandenburg Concertos, with deeply felt slow movements, sprightly Allegros, and blistering Prestos. Unlike some of their ilk, they play with vitality while avoiding interpretive extremes; the finale of No.3, for example, is taken at a blistering pace but never feels too fast for the music. Solos are highly accomplished, with scintillating violin and wind contributions, along with charmingly blatty period horns in No. 1. The engineering is a big plus, helping to make this one of the best period performances of these perennial favorites. --Dan Davis
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With that in mind, I've heard a ton of recordings of the Brandenburgs. And I'm just as tired of the anemic sound and too-fast tempi of ensembles like Hogwood's as I am of the too slow, syrupy interpretations of Fürtwangler and Karajan. This recording by Il Giardino Armonico is the only recording I've heard that manages to make these works really speak.
Antonini bridges the gap between rich lyricism and crisp articulation better than anyone I can think of who performs this repertoire. Brandenburg #4 is my favorite, and the five-voice fugue in the last movement is the standard by which I judge all the best interpretations of this work. Antonini does the most remarkable things with this piece. The subject is rendered by each voice in the most song-like, tuneful, vocal manner. Instead of thumpy, fast, dry (for most period recordings) or wobbly, incoherent, unintelligible (for most modern instrument recordings), here is great legato playing without any loss of crispness or transparency of texture. Where the subject jumps a fifth, he connects the lines where most conductors demand extreme separation, and then creates the most astonishing, perfectly shaped messe di voce you can imagine. That said, all the entrances of the fugue subject are completely distinguishable, and no entrance has the same quality as any other. All the instruments are allowed to express their unique colors and textures, and Bach surely understood how important this was when he orchestrated the work. Furthermore, all of the silences in the work are sharply drawn by the ensemble and as dramatic as you might hear in any Beethoven symphony. I could hardly believe what I was hearing, and I was enormously grateful that, finally, someone got it right.
The other great measure of a high-quality period recording of this work is the natural horn playing on the Brandenburg #2. While it's a hair rough and decidedly masculine (not necessarily a bad thing), it's extremely powerful and expressive, and the player (Gabriele Cassone) understands how to make his instrument speak and dazzle, rather than just hammering out a technically perfect performance, which is all that most natural horn players can hope for.
It's rare that I don't have a complaint about a recording, but this is that exception. I recommend this piece heartily and unqualifiedly.
I must credit Maestro Antonini with breathing life into this performance. The musicianship is fabulous, and the overall sound is truly wonderful.
Amazon's service is unbeatable. During the Christmas rush, the CDs arrived a day earlier than promised. Many thanks to all from A Delighted Listener!
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I laughed so loudly hearing the first movement of the F-major that I nearly lost control...Read more