Ars Antiqua Austria / Gunar Letzbor

J.S. Bach: Violin Concertos BWV 1041-1043; Psalm 51 BWV 1083

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The rather odd double-CD program here isn't intended to make any specific point but simply to bring together a variety of recordings from the mid-1990s for a budget-price reissue. As it happens, that brings a genuine Bach rarity, his arrangement, set to a German version of Psalm 51, of Pergolesi's Stabat Mater. It's something more than a transcription, with some added counterpoint (naturally) and a different conception of the orchestration. Paired with another cantata, it makes a satisfying impression in this performance by the little-known St. Florianer Sängerknaben boys' choir, with the Ars Antiqua Austria under conductor Gunar Letzbor. That's basically the end of the good news, however. Both the orchestra and Letzbor as solo violinist have made innovative historical-performance recordings in the past, but this one exemplifies the worst of the one-instrument-per-part trend. The three violin concertos and the Brandenburg Concerto No. 4, BWV 1049, are all but shapeless masses of sound, with little contrast between solo and ripieno passages. There is some evidence that Bach's instrumental music was played by small ensembles of this kind, even if the models for Bach's concertos, those of Vivaldi, were written for an orchestra of about 60 musicians at the Ospedale della Pietà girls' school. Has anyone ever played Baroque concertos that way on historical instruments? It would make quite a splash. At any rate, whatever Bach's intentions, the concertos feature quite subtle interactions between solo and group that require strenuous efforts to make clear, and they do not receive such efforts here. Those wanting the Pergolesi arrangement may wish to seek this reissue out, but others can do better, even those convinced about the one-instrument-per-part approach.

Track Listing - Disc 2

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
Psalm 51 "Tilge, Höchster, meine Sünden", BWV 1083
1 4:17
2 2:37
3 2:33
4 2:51
5 2:12
6 0:45
7 3:35
8 3:04
9 2:19
10 6:20
11 4:39
12 3:41
13 2:23
14 1:08
Cantata "Himmelskönig, sei willkommen", BWV 182
15 1:52
16 3:29
17 0:46
18 3:28
19 8:31
20 4:28
21 2:45
22 4:27
blue highlight denotes track pick