There's no shortage of mainstream orchestral versions of J.S. Bach's Brandenburg Concertos, but period ensembles usually play them as works for chamber orchestra, with their string sections pared down. In Richard Egarr's historically informed performances with the Academy of Ancient Music, the strings are limited to single instruments per part, much as Bach likely expected and probably got, if these concertos were actually played in his day…
The Gemini Series features an impressive roster of singers, conductors, soloists, and ensembles of international renown, all from the incomparable EMI Classics stable. EMI's rich legacy of recording expertise comes to the fore in performances from the 1960s to the 1990s. Gemini titles are predominantly collections of single composers and fantastic value with well over an hour of music on each CD, making them the ideal place to start or develop a collection of classical music. Each 2-CD set contains over two hours of music for a fantastically low price. Attractively designed and packaged in space-saving brilliant boxes, each set includes three-language booklets with detailed notes on the music.
In many ways this is a special recording. It features first-desks from the Chicago Sym. playing two of Bach's Brandenburg Concertos, and so far beyond the average Baroque ensemble are they that one yearns for the other four. Just to hear the amazing trumpet solos in Concerto no. 2 by the legendary Adolph Herseth repays the cost of the CD. But we also get James Levine doing double duty at the harpsichord in Concerto no. 5. One deficit from the rise of period performance is that non-specialists have been driven out. The days when an all-around musician like Levine or Leonard Bernstein performed Bach and Handel are more or less over, and their replacements, to be tactful, are not on such an exalted level of talent…. By Santa Fe Listener
The Brandenburg Concertos need no introduction – doubtless because they owe their fame to a systematic exploration of a genre recently inherited from the Italians, with a still youthful Bach devising as many different scorings as there are concertos. When he received the manuscript of the six works, Christian Ludwig, Margrave of Brandenburg, must have been terrified by their demands, and his musicians even more so! Three centuries later, the cycle is as open as ever to new ‘historically informed’ interpretations, as this set demonstrates. The CD cover represents the importance of numbers in these works eg Concerto No 3 which is scored for three instruments, in 3 time, 3 sections etc. The trumpeter is particularly impressive. Freiburg are recording and touring Bach throughout 2014.
When Bach was in the service of Prince Leopold in Coethen, he had his own orchestra and was contracted to compose a great deal of instrumental music. This gave him an opportunity to try new techniques and to develop his own instrumental style. The six Brandenburg Concertos belongs to these masterpieces for a small ensemble. This joyously infectious performance of these famous landmarks in the history of music by the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra demonstrates both the musical satisfaction and the high professional standard that can be reached with period instruments.