New London Consort / Philip Pickett

Bach: 6 Brandenburg Concertos

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Everything that could be desired in a historically informed performance of J.S. Bach's Brandenburg Concertos is presented in Philip Pickett's brilliant set with the New London Consort, released in 1993 on L'Oiseau Lyre. This version with period instruments and an ensemble of a size according to Baroque norms is much more than a dry run-through of these beloved works. It is a clever and highly expressive re-creation of Bach's most popular concertos, re-imagined through the artistic and philosophical connections and conventions that likely were found in them by Bach's contemporaries, most probably by Bach and the Margrave of Brandenburg himself. The conductor's liner notes provide detailed explanations of the aspects of the Brandenburg Concertos that would have been read with allegorical meanings, and some of the musical choices Bach made can be seen as symbolic representations or keys to deeper meanings that educated listeners familiar with Baroque art and classical mythology would have understood. This adds to a deeper appreciation of the pieces, and Pickett's scholarship in researching this subtext is certainly welcome to anyone who has previously accepted the conventional wisdom that Bach merely cobbled these masterpieces together as a résumé for a prospective court position that never came. But on purely musical grounds that modern listeners can readily understand, this recording of the Brandenburgs ranks highly among any that follow Baroque performance practices. Indeed, Pickett and the New London Consort stand shoulder to shoulder with the likes of Trevor Pinnock and the English Concert, Christopher Hogwood and the Academy of Ancient Music, and Nikolaus Harnoncourt and Concentus Musicus Wien, and fans of early music will only find the slightest differences in interpretation and technique. But for musicality and sound quality, this recording is surely among the finest available in any style of performance.

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