Concertos: in d for organ,
BWV 1052, 146 and 188;
in d for harpsichord and oboe,
BWV 35 and 1059;
in G for viola,
in D for 3 violins,
Giorgio Sasso, cond, vn, va; Salvatore Carchiolo (org/hpd); Andrea Mion (ob); Paolo Perrone (vn); Mauro Lopes (vn); Insieme Strumentale di Roma (period instruments)
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 94340 (69:16)
It is a standard literary ploy to base novels and stories on so-called alternate history. What if England had lost the Battle of Britain or the South won the American Civil War? What would have happened had the Roman Empire lasted until today, or if the United States were still a part of the United Kingdom? Of course, this is wonderfully speculative and fodder for all sorts of tales, but how far one takes it beyond literary license is a matter of taste and not true history. Musicology is also loaded with such moments, some of which are in fact quite real. On the large event horizon, what would have happened had Mozart lived to, say, his late-60s? Would Beethoven have had the same stature? On the other hand, composers often rewrite or make alternate versions of their works, leading to speculation as to which represents his or her “true” creative intentions. Ignaz Pleyel wrote the same concerto for both viola and cello, for example, and of course there is the well-known Mozart flute concerto in D Major—er, oboe concerto in C major. Are these viable alternates, transcriptions, or works that ought to be seen as separate (re-)compositions?
I do not propose to enter into this debate, fascinating though it may be, but in the case of Johann Sebastian Bach, there is plenty of documentation that he regularly rewrote, altered, or transcribed works for various occasions, thereby re-creating compositions that make exact generic definitions a bit murky. There are, of course, the cantata cycles he wrote for Weimar, later revisited for his Leipzig audiences, and since the former survive only piecemeal, it is difficult to assess the changes. The reworking of the Vivaldi violin concertos into keyboard works is better documented, but who is to say that these represent clever adaptations, complete reworking into new compositions (which, of course, they are), or mere transcriptions? Their very existence, however, has led to various theories on the “original” versions of a fair number of works in his corpus; in other words, the world of “what if?”
This disc offers “reconstructions” of this sort, based on the notion that these four concertos are the “originals” of such “double” works. As a result, conductor/soloist Giorgio Sasso has cobbled together concertos, drawing not only from extant instrumental works, but movements from cantatas that just happen to fit together musically. Thus the concerto BWV 1064 for three solo harpsichords is now for three violins, while the keyboard concerto in A Minor BWV 1055 is recast as a viola concerto (rather than previous attempts using an oboe d’amore), and the remaining two for solo harpsichord and organ. The results are typically Bach, with somewhat relentless spinning out of motives in the fast movements, a sort of perpetual motion, with some lovely flowing central movements. The dialogue between the three violins and basso continuo in the BWV 1064 paraphrase is particularly effective, especially when alternating with a pair of oboes. There is nothing wrong with the music, though the orchestration reconstructions lack definition, especially in the outer movements of the organ concerto.
The performance by the Insieme Strumentale is quite fine, though it can be mechanical in the faster movements, a particular hazard in performing Bach’s instrumental works if more delicate nuances are not observed. The soloists are all more than capable, though a differentiated registration for the organ might have brought out more definition of the line. I still find it difficult to be convinced of the need for such “reconstructions,” however. It is clearly Bach but not Bach, music that is and always will seem to me a bit artificial and not really reconstructed in the true sense of that term. I suppose if you want something unusual or if you happen to be a fan of the “what if?” you will want to have these in your collection. Any purists among you, however, will tend to shrink from this sort of speculative reconstruction in favor perhaps of an umpteenth recording of the true
Bertil van Boer