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GRAMOPHONE (01/2020)
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Reviewer: Lindsay Kemp

Kati Debretzeni has been a respected leader of ensembles such as the English Baroque Soloists and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment for nearly two decades, but despite her evident talent she has rarely stepped into the limelight as a concerto soloist. A neatly distinctive Four Seasons five years ago with the OAE (Signum, 7/14) showed what she could do, however, and now at last here she is in the Bach concertos that have surely been waiting for her. A Bach violin concerto disc can be defined by what is on it as much as by the performances, and here we get the two existing violin concertos, plus two reconstructions from the harpsichord concertos: BWV1052, long thought to have started life as a violin concerto; and BWV1053, a rarity in this context as it is usually reconstructed as an oboe concerto.

The sound is also an important factor here. Although the orchestra is 12-strong, it sounds somehow smaller, and, given that the venue is St Jude’s, Hampstead, there is a surprising lack of bloom. Debretzeni herself is heard quite close to, and although she passes the tests of smooth technique that poses, some listeners may feel that things are not as comfortable on the ear as they might like. Yet there are gains, the foremost being the kind of textural clarity that help any Bach performance. Add to that John Eliot Gardiner’s typically firm-handed elucidatory approach to articulation and the result is music-making full of detail and interest. The closeness of the sound also generates a winning sense of intimacy with the performances that complements Gardiner’s description of the music as ‘like a passionate conversation between friends’.

Debretzeni’s own character is engaging, whether bright and chipper in the first movement of BWV1041, intense but unsentimental in the slow movement of BWV1042 or joyously relishing the chance to run around in BWV1053 (the reconstruction is her own). Between them she and Gardiner also conjure as thrillingly dramatic a vision of the demonic BWV1052 as you could wish for.

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