Brandenburg Concerto #6 in Bb major BWV 1051

reviewed by Tom-Tom

Violas and to a lesser extent cellos tend to be the red-headed step-children of any early string ensemble. As mentioned before, most Baroque and even Classical composing styles gave everything in terms of melody to the first and sometimes second violins with the occasional scrap allowed to the cello. Barely anything other harmony is bestowed to the poor violas. In some of later composer Rossini’s early string sonatas, he leaves them out completely. Violists read a different clef from the rest of the ensemble really making them the bastard child apparent of the string family. This is shame as the viola is really a beautiful instrument more mellow than the violin if not as deeply resonant as the cello. It’s not until some of Mozart’s later symphonies and chamber music that the viola even has much of a role other than supporting harmonically the rest of the group as the thankless maid or butler.

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Brandenburg Concerto #5 in D major BWV 1050

reviewed by Tom-Tom

It is come, the Fifth installment of the masterwork of the genius of the Baroque era, the Brandenburg Concerto #5. This is my favorite and probably the best of all 6 pieces. Bach’s heart is truly in this piece. Up until now, the harpsichord has been merely the part and parcel of the basso continuo whose purpose was just to establish the chord and keep the pace in the absence of the institution of a conductor, which isn’t to be invented for some time. Here it has double duty, both as continuo and part-time soloist. It is bracketed by a Solo Violin and Solo Flute whose back and forth echo the Violin and Recorders of the Fourth Concerto. The ripieno strings are in full action as well with the busy melody already doubling eighth notes from the start. No one is as busy as the harpsichord who, made by Bach FOR Bach is a joy of impossibly quick scales interweaving between arpeggios announcing the chord so the flute and violin can trounce around freely. Continue reading

Brandenburg Concerto #4 in G major BWV 1049

reviewed by Tom-Tom

After the thick, all-string Third Concerto, next comes a lighter but no less superb work with solo violin and two solo recorders accompanied by a normal sized string ensemble (not triple parts here). Unlike the unbalanced volume of the Second Concerto, the Soli never monopolize all sound nor each other. The result is a kind conversation between two friends with the two recorders mostly acting as one similarly to the way the three oboes did in the First Concerto. The orchestral accompaniment is light for Bach playing mere pick up notes most of the time with the exception of the Basso Continuo. Halfway through the movement, the Solo Violin plays a series of rapid legato 32 notes. It’s a furious solo in the middle of the otherwise elegant musings of the recorders and light strings like someone going on a passionate rage in the middle of a cocktail party. Things get back to normal and the melody repeats and goes on a little longer than perhaps is necessary but the serene albeit quick interweaving of string and woodwinds is pleasant.

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Brandenburg Concerto #2 in F major BWV 1047

reviewed by Tom-Tom

The second Brandenburg Concerto is perhaps the most famous of the six with its relatively simpler melody and bright trumpet part. The third movement was chosen to be one of the representative pieces placed in a probe to be sent into the far reaches of space to depict the great achievements of humanity. I would have chosen another one but we can’t all get what we want.

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Brandenburg Concerto #1 in F major BWV 1046

Reviewed by Tom-Tom

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The piece begins and your ears struggle to hear what instruments are being played not to mention actually try to divine who has the melody. That’s precisely the thing with the best of Bach’s music. Everyone has the melody and they are all playing now. Oh, to see the inside of the mind behind the music. Speaking of the music, the basso continuo is raking out the mother chords as the oboe come in a beat after and then the strings. Almost everything you hear will be divided, passed around the ensemble which consists of three oboes, natural horns (corni di caccia), a bassoon, and strings with violino piccolo atop them with basso continuo below. Bach’s Double Concerto for two violins is called so because either violin could be taken out and still be a decent sounding piece. Here in the first movement of the first Brandenburg Concerti, there’s so much movement and use that it is difficult to imagine the melody is actually quite simple. It is the use of the fugue which, to Bach was as natural as smoking, drinking coffee, and having yet another child born.

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Brandenburg Concerto #3 in G major BWV1048

reviewed by Tom-Tom

The third Brandenburg is an all-string affair but don’t be quick to sell it short. It is scored for three violin parts, three viola parts, three cello parts, and basso continuo. Having a legion of strings play the thickly orchestrated work isn’t a barter, it’s great.

The first movement begins robustly introducing the wavering theme with repeating rhythmic pickups leading to moving themes. Bach’s use of orchestration across this vast array of strings is truly majestic but also rustic. In typical fashion the themes are compressed into thick, juicy counterpoint and fugues sequenced by tense solos which resolve and agitate the melody back and forth across mostly the mid to upper strings. The celli don’t have overly much to do and the piece ends with a re-chorus of the original melody.

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