Academy of Ancient Music Plays Brandenburg Concertos

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Academy of Ancient Music gave a live demonstration of its new recording of Bach's Brandenburg Concertos at George Mason's Center for the Arts on Sunday afternoon. True to historically informed performance practice, the British ensemble assigned one player to each part, reflecting Music Director Richard Egarr's assessment of these six concertos as "some of the best chamber music ever penned." Bach likely conceived the works as a "musical portrait" of the highly skilled chamber orchestra that he led at K├Âthen.

These were intimate performances, requiring technical prowess on sometimes unpredictable period instruments, or modern copies of them. The group correctly uses a violino piccolo in No. 1 and violas da gamba in No. 6, but it is not always literally faithful to the score, adding a theorbo and even Baroque guitar to the continuo and a bassoon to the bass line of No. 2. The results were, not surprisingly, less polished live, but the imperfections made clear the striking demands of this virtuosic music.

The natural horns whooped and twittered to charming effect in the first concerto, the flauto traverso was a mellow, avian presence in the fifth, the twin recorders held a chipper dialogue in the fourth, and the valve-less trumpet of the second was crisp and yet not too dominant. Egarr sparkled in the harpsichord solos of the fifth concerto, earning an ovation after the cadenza and again at the end of the first movement, but his interpretation is not the most adventurous, brilliant or daring version of these familiar works.

-- Charles T. Downey

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