Correction: This review has been updated photo of The Freiburg Baroque Orchestra. The photo that was originally posted with this review was of The Frieburger BarockConsort.
The Freiburg Baroque Orchestra is on a Bach World Tour, and the first stop in the United States was at the Library of Congress on Tuesday. The tour is promoting the group’s new recording of the Brandenburg Concertos, coming out next month. One might think that the last thing the world needs is another recording of these Bach masterworks, but the crowd packed into Coolidge Auditorium knew better, happy to hear a performance of all six of these delightful concertos.
This German ensemble’s first recording of the Brandenburgs was a DVD made in the room for which Bach possibly intended them, the recently restored Spiegelsaal (Hall of Mirrors) in the palace of Bach’s employer in Köthen, and one continues to hear an intimate knowledge of these scores in the playing of all the Freiburg musicians. The visual joy of watching these performances live was considerable, too, especially in the third concerto, a sort of wreath of triple strands, where one can watch motifs as they cross the three intertwined string sections, or move from one violinist or violist to the next and on down the line. Only the first, second, and fourth concertos were performed here with large forces, which pleasingly allowed some of the smaller solo instruments to shine in those concertos played with just one musician on each part.
The Freiburgers grouped the concertos in flat keys on the first half in order to take advantage of a brighter temperament, or interval tuning, for the concertos in sharp keys on the second half. Standout performances included the intrusive, rough-necked horns in the first concerto; the valiant, slightly homespun sound of the clarino trumpet in the second; the bravura harpsichord playing of Sebastian Wienand and mellow transverse flute in the fifth; and the bubbly recorder twins in the fourth. Almost the entire ensemble took the stage again for an encore, the raucous gigue from a Telemann F major concerto, with the two horns once again like bulls in a china shop.
Downey is a freelance writer.