Brandenburg Concerto #3 in G major BWV 1048

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.

The second movement is actually a bit of a hoot as it is one measure and only two notes. The performance I listened to by the Academy of Ancient Music led by Christopher Hogwood had a bit of improv by the lead violin fill in the gaps. It ends with a half cadence leaving us in a bit of a musical cliffhanger anticipating the third movement.

The entire might of the triply scored strings is brought to the foreground in the powerful and quick third movement. The passing around of the melody is so furious and seemingly random it gives the listener an aural “whack-a-mole” feel. At its height, the counterpointing melodies reach a fever pitch and are resolved by perhaps the best viola part in a non-Viola Concerto of the entire Baroque Period (not including the Sixth Brandenburg Concerto, of course!).

It is a fun and delightful end to a relatively short but no less ingenious concerto by a master.

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