Iceland's fabled classical music infrastructure, which has had ramifications in both the classical and pop fields, has generated some activity in the early music field. The Reykjavik Chamber Orchestra, led here by founder Rut Ingólfsdóttir, was established in 1974, and like similar small virtuoso groups has played Baroque ensemble music. Although the orchestra apparently uses modern instruments, the impact of the historical-performance movement is evident in this 2003 recording of Bach's surviving violin concertos, which for unspecified reasons was not released until six years after it was made. The group is small (11 players, plus solo violinist Ingólfsdóttir and other soloists), and the soloists, although they don't seem to play in the tutti passages, aren't sharply differentiated from the larger group. Vibrato is minimal, with a clipped, brisk quality to the whole interrupted by quietly balanced slow movements. The orchestra's ensemble work is impressively precise, and this is the kind of recording where sampling will reveal fairly quickly whether or not you should consider yourself a potential buyer: the concept is effectively executed. But many listeners will find the concept itself less than pleasing: the music is a bit inexpressive, with few dynamic and textural variations. The focus is on Bach's absorption of the Vivaldian concerto style into his own rigorous contrapuntal world, and indeed that is an essential component of Bach's concerto writing that is brought out well here. But for many hearers the Italianate concerto, even in Bach's hands, is better served by a less dry and more dramatic approach.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim
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