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GRAMOPHONE (12/2022)
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Reviewer :
Lindsay Kemp

Remembering their recordings of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos (A/14) and violin concertos (4/16), what else are we to expect from John Butt and his Dunedin Consort but invigorating music-making showing off some bright ideas but no wilful eccentricities, recorded with expert naturalness and clarity? And nor would we be wrong to. If you don’t know these pieces already, there’s absolutely no reason why this should not be the version to start with. True, the same could be said of, oh, the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra (Harmonia Mundi, 1/12), Sigiswald Kuijken and La

Petite Bande (Accent, 12/13), or for that matter The English Concert under Trevor Pinnock (Archiv, 10/88), but Butt is always a reliable go-to man for Bach, one you can trust to let his insights as scholar and performer inform the music without trying to say more about him than about the composer. Which is not to say that there are no distinguishing marks. Butt likes the slow sections of his Ouvertures to step out with stately and relaxed single-dotting yet still have air between the notes, and the fast sections don’t try to win races. This is especially so in No 1, where every note seems to count – you never feel that we are skipping through the smaller ones from one fence-post to another. The trumpets and drums in Nos 3 and 4 kick up a good rattle and rumble, while the solo strings and flute in No 2 rustle gently like wind through the fronds. Butt seems to be playing down the French influence in these movements, at least as regards performance matters of phrasing and articulation: long notes trill to full value rather than tucking under, and there is very sparing use of the inégal effects that others (eg Kuijken) have applied successfully, especially in No 1.

Tempos are more conventional in the dances, though the Forlane and Passepieds in No 1 are perhaps slower than expected. Generally, however, all have convincing individual characters and a proper sense of movement. Variety is added to the dances of No 1 by sometimes dropping the oboes and bassoon, and other pleasures include a laid-back Air in No 3 in which (as in the woodwind-less parts of No 1) the solo strings and harpsichord offer a sound with the comforting feel of warm dry straw, some cute bassoon articulation in No 1, and a deliciously wispy Badinerie in No 2, where Katy Bircher is the solo flautist. The viola intrudes in the balance in this suite, however, twanging nervously in the Bourrée like a spider’s web.

If you want the blood to run a little faster, Reinhard Goebel and Musica Antiqua Köln are quirkily original (Archiv, 10/86), while more recently Rinaldo Alessandrini showed his alert personality directing Concerto Italiano (Naïve, 12/19). But you know you can’t go wrong with Butt.


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