Jan Willem de Vriend / Combattimento Consort Amsterdam

Bach: Brandenburg Concertos

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Five out of six times, this set of the Brandenburg Concertos by the Combattimento Consort Amsterdam is first-rate. As soloists, the players are almost all superb. Violinist Jan Willem de Vriend is graceful and charming in the Second, Fourth, and Fifth concertos and simply dazzling as the violino di piccolo player in the First. Recorder player Marion Verbruggen is airy and joyful alone in the Second and doubly joyful together with Anneke Boeke in the Fourth. Flutist Jacques Zoon is suave and sweet in the Fifth, oboist Remco de Vries is plangent and poignant in the Second, harpsichordist Patrick Ayrton is clear and deep in the Fifth, and hornists Paul van Zelm and Christian Boers are bucolic but not bumptious in the First. And as an orchestra, the Combattimento is superlative. The ensemble is light and elegant; the colors are bright and shining; and the tempos are right on the sweet spot. Best of all, the interplay balances challenge and cooperation. In the Third, for example, the three groups of three string soloists support each other, but they also goad each other to go further than their furthest and do better than their best. But, one of six times, the soloist unfortunately isn't quite up to the part, and the result, while scarcely disastrous, is also hardly first-rate. In the excruciatingly demanding trumpet solo in the Second, Peter Masseurs simply cannot hit all his high notes -- and most of his notes are high notes -- cracking or splitting or flat-out missing far too many of them for comfort. It's true that the natural trumpet is an exceedingly difficult instrument to master, and it's also true that Masseurs' playing is polished and expressive in the instrument's more manageable middle register, but, too often, his playing is on the other side of unnerving. Antonie Marchand's sound is crisp, clean, and colorful with a robust tone and a warm acoustic.

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