Helmut Koch

Bach: Brandenburg Concertos Nos. 1-3; Orchestral Suite No. 4

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Were there many listeners in the world calling for the reissue of Helmut Koch and the Kammerorchestrer Berlin's well-played but uninspired 1974 recording of Bach's first three Brandenburg Concertos coupled with the Fourth Orchestral Suite? It seems unlikely. Played by a large and often ungainly modern-instrument chamber orchestra and directed with drive but little sensitivity by an East German conductor, these performances do have their merits: the trumpets in the Orchestral Suite are suitably festive and the timpani are appropriately robust; the first Brandenburg, for all its weight, is surprisingly light on its feet in the Polacca at the center of the Minuets and Trios of the finale; and the second Brandenburg has enthusiastic soloists with a balanced sense of ensemble playing. The third Brandenburg, however, is wholly unsuccessful: the string section's rhythm is much too heavy and the tone is far too jolly in the opening movement, while the more than a minute long Adagio harpsichord solo that introduces the tubby closing movement is awkward and brittle. Listeners interested in Baroque performance practice in the German Democratic Republic need look no further. Others may wish to pass. As always, Berlin Classics' stereo sound is better on silent compact discs then it was on the East German recycled truck tires that passed as records in the '70s.

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