Bach: Harpsichord Concertos Vol. 3

Trevor Pinnock, Marieke Spaans, Marcus Mohlin harpsichords, Katy Bircher flute, Manfredo Kraemer violin, Concerto Copenhagen, Lars Ulrik Mortensen harpsichord/director
106:20 (2 CDs in a single jewel case)
cpo 777 681-2
BWV 1044, 1060–65

This 2-CD set completes the recordings by Concerto Copenhagen and Lars Ulrik Mortensen of the Bach Concerti, where Mortensen is partnered by Trevor Pinnock in the two harpsichord concerti, and by others in the three and four harpsichord ones. The triple concerto for flute, violin and harpsichord makes up the set.

No-one who has heard the other volumes or the recently released violin concerti by Concerto Copenhagen will want to miss these. This group plays stylishly, rhythmically and with a sense of delight in the intricate filigree music that these multiple instrument recordings offer. This suits the impish joie de vivre that Trevor Pinnock, having relinquished his long and creative association with the English Concert, brings to his music-making these days, and he makes a splendid partner to Mortensen. It was a young Mortensen whom Pinnock got to join them in the English Concert’s 1981 recording of the three and four harpsichord concerti, so here, thirty years on, we have a return match.

The booklet, though slender, is full of useful information – just who is playing in which concerti, and which are done one-to-a-part – the C minor version of the double violin concerto BWV 1062 being one; who made the harpsichords, and what instruments they are based on – those played by Pinock and Mortensen are copies by John Phillips of a 1722 Dresden Johann Heinrich Gräbner, together with the pitch and ‘an unequal temperament’. It sets out the complexities of dating the concerti, and recognises the critical questions around the different scorings – or supposed scorings in the case of the putative oboe d’amore concerto – of which versions are provided in the NBA volumes that contain the versions for harpsichord. It used to be thought that all these concerti dated from Bach’s time at Köthen between 1717 and 1723. More recent analysis and dating of sets of surviving MSS parts make it seem more likely that, as with the parodied birthday cantatas of the Köthen period, much of the instrumental music was reused later, probably when Bach became leader of the Leipzig Collegium Musicum in the 1730s. Were the instrumental parts that accompany the C major BWV 1061 – and a version exists without any strings at all – added by Bach or someone else, for example?

Whatever the complexities, these performances – recorded in 2011 and 2013 in the bell-like acoustics of the Garnison church in Copenhagen – are excellent, to my mind the only other group offering performances of a comparable standard at the moment being John Butt’s Dunedin Consort.

It is good to have the triple concerto, an expanded version of the Prelude and Fugue in A minor for harpsichord BWV 892, as part of the set. The playing here is of the same exemplary standard – crisp rhythms, crystal-clear strings and sensitive balance. Katy Bircher and Manfredo Kraemer are faultless, and provide a matching tone to this work, which has so many echoes of Brandenburg 5, with their fluent passagework and only occasional predominance of the violin, which makes me think that the engineers haven’t messed about with the balance too much. The slow movement in particular with just the three solo instruments illustrates a wonderful relaxed and generous rhythmic interplay. This is chamber music at its very best.

David Stancliffe

[ED: David awarded SIX stars for performance and recorded sound!]