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GRAMOPHONE ( 01/ 2019)
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Reviewer: Lindsay Kemp

The tone of Concerto Copenhagen’s Brandenburgs is set right at the beginning of Concerto No 1, where the usual raucous trampling by the horns is tamed and tucked neatly into a texture that is light, suave and comfortable. It is followed by a slow movement that tumbles loosely and wistfully like autumn leaves, a third that swings unhurriedly to arrive on its final chord with a good-natured blast, and a svelte and smooth finale. If the recent recording by Zefiro (Arcana, 11/18) has the sort of joyous energy that can pick you up in the morning, this is one to settle down to in the fading light of afternoon. Free of bombast and happy to linger on finely turned detail, it is altogether a different pleasure.

And so it goes throughout the entire set. No 2 is similarly nonchalant, giving time to enjoy the various colours of the four soloists, led by superb trumpet-playing from Robert Farley. The texture is wonderfully lucid here, and continues to be so in the second movement, aided by Lars Ulrik Mortensen’s choice of the buff stop for his lightly trickling continuo. No 3, going somewhat against the modern trend, is measured, favouring flow and gentle undulation over speed and nagging rhythmic accentuation. Mortensen’s rippling harpsichord flourish for the ‘second’ movement makes a pleasing change from the usual violin.

Concerto No 4 is again a display of cleanliness and clarity, with the fugal strands of the finale in particular often singing out proudly, especially at the beginning. The normally steady approach to tempo is spoiled a little here, however, by what sound like slightly incompatible takes at places, while things are also possibly a bit too relaxed towards the end, where I miss the grand climactic swell of the last fugal tutti. Sweetly shaped violin-playing by Fredrik From, the reliably liquid fluting of Katy Bircher and typically controlled keyboard brilliance of Mortensen himself (who, like Francesco Corti in the Zefiro recording, can’t quite bring himself to submit to normal continuo subservience after his first-movement cadenza) characterise Concerto No 5, which also benefits from an uncommonly mellow and moving slow movement. And in No 6 it comes as no surprise by now to hear Concerto Copenhagen drawing out its sometimes murky texture to uncover the intricate beauties within.

This, then, is not a Brandenburg set of the hard-hitting, exuberant kind, but one which just holds things back enough to reveal the music’s wealth of musical detail, as well as the refined musicality of its players. There is, of course, room for both approaches.

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