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GRAMOPHONE ( 01/ 2019)
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Reviewer: Charlotte Gardner

It was never going to be a complete surprise to find these four concertos to be an exquisitely joyous and exciting listen, when on the ticket we have Concerto Köln’s concertmaster Shunske Sato and the always sparkling Il Pomo d’Oro. Still, the degree of exquisitely joyful listening has nevertheless completely bowled me over.

So much so, in fact, that it feels a little mundane to begin with talk of tempos. However, in the context of the many steeplechase interpretations of this repertoire out there, it is worth stating at the outset that this is not one of those. By contrast, all the speeds here just feel right: unhurried, but equally brimming with energy and flow. What really makes this recording one to treasure, though, is the degree of uncontrived personality and artistry on display. Subtle rubato is a major factor in this: playful mini-tugs that catch and tease the ear without ever interfering with the momentum. Less subtle but equally spot-on touches then include the moment in the final Allegro assai of the E major Concerto (BWV1042) when, at 1'13", Sato suddenly digs deeper into his instrument, tipping over what was already lithely dancing energy into a full-on barndance stomp.

Another point I can’t shout loudly enough about is the exceptional blending. In fact sometimes you almost lose track of who is who, whether it’s Sato and the Il Pomo d’Oro violins tonally weaving in and out of each other in the Allegro assai of the A minor Concerto (BWV1041) or Sato and Valova’s duetting throughout the Double Concerto. Everyone is listening to and revelling in their musical colleagues, to the extent that hierarchies are deliciously blurred. Sticking with the Double, its central Largo is a stunner: clean, poised, measured, but also highly romantic.

Then there’s the glow to the overall sound, and its little timbral presents such as, in the Largo of the G minor Concerto (BWV1056R), the gentle luminosity of the pizzicato strings and the delicate harpsichord droplets supporting Sato’s song above. Have I sold it enough? I hope so. Because really, this is properly heavenly.

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