Bach: Oboenwerke, Volume 1 - Utkin
Caro Mitis CM 0012003
Classical - Chamber
J.S. Bach: Concerto for Oboe d'amore, Strings and Basso Continuo in A major BWV 1055, Concerto for Violin, Oboe, Strings and Basso Continuo in D minor BWV 1060, Concerto for Oboe, Strings and Basso Continuo in F major BWV 1053, Concerto for Oboe, Flute and Violin in D major (trans. BWV 1064)
Alexei Utkin (oboe)
Hermitage Chamber Orchestra
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- Johann Sebastian Bach: Concerto for 3 Violins, BWV 1064R in D major (after BWV 1064)
- Johann Sebastian Bach: Concerto for Oboe and Violin, BWV 1060R in C minor
- Johann Sebastian Bach: Concerto for Oboe d'Amore, BWV 1055R in A major (after BWV 1055)
- Johann Sebastian Bach: Concerto for Oboe, BWV 1053R in F major (after BWV 49/169/1053)
Review by John Miller - February 26, 2009
The Hermitage Chamber Orchestra consists of young music graduates who play on modern instruments. They were founded in 2000 by the indefatigable oboe virtuoso Alexei Utkin, and comprise two first and three second violins, two violas, two cellos, a double bass, bassoon, flute and oboe. In this series of 3 discs, they play all JS Bach's extant non-vocal works with prominent oboe parts, together with some transcriptions for oboe from Bach's other instrumental works by Utkin.
Many listeners are aware that Bach's popular series of keyboard concertos written for the Leipzig Collegium Musicum were themselves arrangements of 'lost' earlier instrumental concertos. Through a variety of means, scholars in the late C20th were able to establish the original solo components and recreate the scores from the published keyboard versions. The Caro Mitis booklet does not indicate the authors of these re-compositions, but it seems that the scores are included in the New Bach Edition Urtext. The present disc gives us an opportunity to hear the 'original' versions (probably composed in the Cöthen period) bearing in mind that the music is all Bach, only the solo instrumentation is changed.
The Concerto for Oboe d'amore, Strings and Basso Continuo in A major BWV 1055 was the original version of the Leipzig Harpsichord Concerto in A major. The oboe d'amore, an alto form with a bulbous end, was prized by Baroque composers, especially Bach, for its warm, rich tone. Utkin shows in the quick outer movements that it can also play with graceful agility, but the heart of the work is in the slow movement, where one of Bach's almost unending outpourings of melody is played heartbreakingly by Utkin, with ripe tone, superb breath control and ineffable expression.
Bach re-arranged his Concerto for Violin, Oboe, Strings and Basso Continuo in D minor BWV 1060 for his Concerto for 2 harpsichords in C minor. The reconstructed original retains the relaxed lyrical character of the harpsichord work, but with added colour from the interplay of the oboe and violin. Utkin uses an oboe by Lorée.
The Concerto for Oboe, Strings and Basso Continuo in F major BWV 1053 became the Harpsichord Concerto in E major, and it is fascinating to hear its liltingly familiar tunes in new clothing. Utkin is wonderfully responsive to its sense of fun and grace.
The final concerto in the disc is a transcription by Utkin himself, using the same scholarly methods, of the 3 Harpsichord Concerto BWV 1064. It originated in a concerto for 3 violins, but Utkin decided to use Oboe, Flute and Violin to represent the intertwining and chiming of three violins, thereby extending the oboe repertoire. Bach would certainly not have objected to such changes in instrumentation in his works; he was a pragmatic and practical Baroque composer, dealing with limited resources, so he would use what he had, or simply experiment with new sound combinations. This tuneful work has an arresting opening in its new guise, and the three soloists show exemplary rapport and skill in rapid passage work.
The ripieno playing on this disc is quite simply breathtaking in its tight ensemble and natural flow; the very essence of the Baroque "affekt". Far from the forced speeds and squeezed tone or gritty approach often touted as historically correct these days, the players have a lightness of touch and springy rhythmic action which is both graceful, expressive and irresistibly toe-tapping. Utkin's artistry as a soloist is just phenomenal; clearly inspiring his young players with his expressive lines and virtuoso passages. The orchestral playing is underpinned with a solid engine-room of continuo; cellos and basses laying down a foundation of buoyant rhythms, and the brilliant bassoon is also clearly working hard in florid part-writing.
Complimenting these stellar performances, the recording provided by Polyhymnia is one of their best. The recording venue in Moscow was one of the studios of the Russian Television and Radio Broadcasting Company (RTR), of suitable size for the chamber orchestra. Polyhymnia has permanently stationed in Russia a location recording set-up equipped for 8-track DSD, high-resolution PCM, and surround monitoring, under the care of Essential Music, the Caromitis label's parent. For this disc, a Meitner DSD analogue to digital converter was used. The Hermitage band is spread out just behind the loudspeakers, and the position of every musician can be determined. Soloists, although just in front of the orchestra, are not over-close. Very little key noise is heard, but Utkin's intake of breath signals the start of each piece. The balance notably allows all the inner parts to be followed easily in the transparent sound-field. I would say this is a near-perfect recording of a chamber orchestra.
Presentation is stylish, with a long and helpful essay by Roman Nassonov, beautifully translated into English by Patricia Donegan, with Russian and German versions.
Every note on this disc is pure joy, a marriage of exceptional musicianship and state-of-the-art engineering. Unmissable.
Copyright © 2009 John Miller and HRAudio.net