Harmony of Nations, Laurence Cummings
edition raumklang RK3007
BWV1048, 1057, 1063, 1064, 1069
The Harmony of Nations Baroque Orchestra was founded in 2004 by musicians who had met in the European Union Baroque Orchestra as part of a pan-European determination to work across national and historic cultural divides and to share insights.
The music chosen for this CD is from J. S. Bach’s triple concertos of one sort or another, and is introduced by an admirable essay by John Butt. They play the early version of the Ouverture in D, BWV1069 (without the trumpets and timpani added in about 1730), which enables us to hear the fine playing by the three oboes and the fagotto, otherwise silent in the subsequent pieces. This is followed by the concerto for harpsichord and two recorders in F, BWV1057, a version of the Fourth Brandenburg transposed down a tone into F and with a harpsichord replacing the violin, Brandenburg 3, BWV1048, and two concertos for three violins in what is likely to have been their original form, re-adapted from what survives as concerti for three harpsichords (BWV1063 and 1064). Because 1064’s violin version involves a transposition back up into D, this score merits a distinct version in NBA VII/7, which is denied to 1063 in NBA VII/6 which remains in D minor. Following the harpsichord version of 1063, there was one small detail which would have eased the transcription: in measures 40 and 72 of the third movement there are three semiquavers in the bass parts of each of the cembalo parts which link the previous figure to the continuing semiquaver passage work in the first/second concertante violin part. In the absence of a score of this passage, I wonder if the transcription doesn’t need the connecting semiquavers? The ‘cello part in 1064 has some fine moments playing independently of the continuo line, and might that be a solution here?
The playing is engaged and exciting, but balanced when it needs to be to enable us to hear the delicate figuration in BWV1057, for example. The technical skills of the principal violinist in the D minor concerto, Huw Daniel, are amazing, and I was conscious all through of the extremely fine viola playing, where I often find this line too weak to sustain the harmonic gap between multiple violin lines and a strong basso continuo section.
I have the greatest respect for Laurence Cummings and the work he does with young musicians. This CD was recorded in 2010, and I would dearly like to hear companion discs exploring some of the other concerto transcriptions using wind like 1044, 1055 and 1060, for example. But I suspect that the players may have dispersed now, and anyway will the United Kingdom still take part in such fine examples of cross-boundary cultural initiatives after next March?
There are not that many recordings of these works available – I only know the one by Rachel Podger and Brecon Baroque, and the version by the Freiburg Orchestra – so I am very glad to have it: get it while you can.