Yehudi Menuhin

Bach: Orchestral Suites; Concertos

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Dating from the late '50s and early '60s, these Bach recordings featuring Yehudi Menuhin as conductor and violinist seem not to have aged well. But perhaps they're just at a low point in a cycle. Even older Bach recordings -- such as Stokowski's concupiscent readings -- have come back into vogue, and Menuhin's versions are in no way less than competent musically, with the well-drilled Bath Festival Orchestra executing snappy, subtle phrasing at very brisk tempos (sample the rapid-fire Badinerie in the Suite No. 2 for orchestra in B minor). It's just that the massed strings of the Bath Festival Orchestra overwhelm the texture, even if Menuhin forges a consistent relationship between the full-orchestra sections and reduced textures as he backs off sharply to a delicate level in the latter. There are a variety of producers (likely under the supervision of George Martin, although he is not named anywhere), but in general the sound, from Abbey Road Studio No. 1, is not good and makes the strings sound boxy and harsh. Menuhin has the most success as a conductor here, and an X factor works in favor of the orchestral suites; well in advance of the first general stirrings of the historical performance movement, he realized that Bach ought to be tough, varied, and a bit sinewy rather than homogenous and sweet. The various concertos at the end of the program just don't hold together; the solo parts don't come through clearly enough to have any meaningful relationship to the whole, and a loud, old-fashioned harpsichord conspires to keep them down. Perhaps more of a period piece than anything else, but certainly of interest to those fascinated by the way Bach has been perceived over the decades and centuries.

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