Bach: Concerto à Cembali concertati vol. 4

Concertos for 3 & 4 harpsichords
Aapo Häkkinen, Miklós Spányi, Cristiano Holtz, Anna-Maaria Oramo, Helsinki Baroque Orchestra
Aeolus AE-10107
+Müthel: Duetto in E-flat major

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This recording brings the set of four CDs of Helsinki Baroque Orchestra’s recording of Bach’s Concerti à Cembali concertati, with Aapo Häkkinen as the leading harpsichordist, to a conclusion. The first volume was released in 2012.

The playing is light and bright, and with one-to-a-part strings, the harpsichords – especially in BWV 1065 – are in no danger of being smothered. As in the previous recordings, the Helsinki Baroque Orchestra plays on an interesting array of instruments with violins by Stainer and Klotz, a viola by Leclerc c. 1770 and a ‘cello from Rome c. 1700. The odd one out is a Bohemian double bass dated 1840, and it sounds like it: much too boomy in some places. Clearly, they do not always play with a 16’ – there is a delightfully transparent Youtube video of their performance in Japan of Brandenburg V which not only eschews a 16’ violone but has only two other upper strings alongside the concertante violin! So why use a double bass when a slighter-toned violone would have matched the other strings far better?

The ‘filler’ in this volume – it has included pieces for single harpsichord in the earlier volumes like the Italian concerto – is a quite different piece: Johann Gottfried Müthel (1728-1788)’s Duetto in E-flat major of 1771 is in three movements played here on two closely-recorded clavichords from the very end of the 18th century, reminding us of the continuing popularity of the clavichord as a boudoir instrument, which is just what is right for this piece.

I have quite a few recordings of the complete set of harpsichord concerti: Ton Koopman with the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra from the early 1990s, Trevor Pinnock with The English Concert, Lars Ulrich Mortensen with Concerto Copenhagen, and there is Pieter-Jan Belder with the Amphion Consort for Brilliant Classics and Davitt Morony with colleagues on historic instruments – all of which have strong claims as a complete set.

Only the more recent like Concerto Copenhagen, the Amphion Consort and the emerging (but not yet complete) series with Francesco Corti and Il Pomo d’Oro use (rightly to my mind) single strings, so this recording may be a good choice.

David Stancliffe

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