Alexei Utkin

Bach: Oboenwerke

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Old Russian recordings of Bach can impress with their sheer sensuality even if you feel they're not terribly idiomatic, and something similar happens here with this Russian release. Russia's Caro Mitis label has plunged into the audiophile market in a big way and has generally delivered clear, spatially balanced recordings that are satisfying to experience, right down to the label's juicy-fruit logo. In oboist Alexei Utkin they have found an ideal collaborator. His music-making is, in a word, gorgeous. The slow movements of these Bach concertos (more on the provenance in a moment) will bring to mind every formula in the book about the oboe being the instrument that comes closest to the human voice, and he corners crisply in the outer movements as well. These works will be more familiar in their usual versions, as concertos for one, two, or three harpsichords and strings. The keyboard concertos are thought to have been based on earlier lost works, although the hypothetical oboe concertos involved in the BWV 1053 and BWV 1055 concertos are not quite the done deals presented in the booklet. So, with one exception, the works here are reconstructions; the Concerto in D major, BWV 1064, is a transcription rather than a reconstruction, substituting oboe, flute, and violin for the probable three violins of the lost original. It's useful to have this group together in a fine performance, but the disc doesn't close the book on what's possible. The performers use modern instruments, with a maximal surface sheen apparently in mind. Utkin brags that the Hermitage Chamber Orchestra may be the only orchestra in the world led by an oboist, but he seems curiously disconnected from its members, who play Bach's lines perfectly but somehow without a sense of organic wholeness. Still, there are moments of beauty here that will compel a physical reaction. The bottom line is that this is a good choice for audiophiles and for anyone else who is pleased that the more the Russian School changes, the more it remains the same. Notes are in Russian and English.

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