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GRAMOPHONE (07/2021)
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Reviewer: Mark Seow 

In December 2019 Lindsay Kemp called Rinaldo Alessandrini’s recording of Bach’s Orchestral Suites perhaps ‘the danciest ever’. There’s a new contender for this crown. Concerto Copenhagen (‘CoCo’) and Lars Ulrik Mortensen bring us Bach’s Orchestral Suites sans trumpets and timpani, and it’s slinky stuff. Compare, for instance, the Overtures to the Suite in C, BWV1066. Concerto Italiano offer an interpretation that is tortuously slow, outer sections that are stiff and straight as poorly laundered garments. If this is a dance, it’s strangely reluctant to move. In contrast, Mortensen gleans a freshness from his players, a sense of swing fuelled on joy. Their tirades are more like streaks of sparkle, outlining larger shapes of grace. You can feel the entire band in collective sway, sweating inégal through their pores.

The constant wiggliness is trademark CoCo under Mortensen; but there’s real muscle to the playing too. Take the Overture to the Suite in D, BWV1068: the violins tussle with a fleshy, robust sound, girded by an extremely healthy basso continuo team. Sometimes, however, there’s a sense that Mortensen won’t stop driving: the relentlessness of his foot on the gas affords a slight constraint in the collective sound. Bow arms aren’t quite allowed to relax into resonance, and the ceiling on the bloom could be that bit closer to heaven.

Yet the performances are undeniably virtuoso. The one-to-a-part playing creates a startling clarity to the ‘orchestral’ texture, a transparency that calls for individual praise. First there’s the joyful bassoon-playing by Jane Gower, perfectly peppered in boisterousness. The prominence of 8- and 16-foot resonance, in general, is a balance I adore. Gower’s tone provides a burnished backdrop for the nimble stardust that is Katy Bircher’s exquisite flute-playing. When the bass drops out in the Bourrée from the Overture in B minor, BWV1067, we’re able to hear just how good this is: up there, against the tinkling embroidery of the harpsichord’s treble, Bircher is articulate, vibrant and infinitely elegant; a jewel in the crown of this wonderful group.


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