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.

We arrive at our first real second movement since the Second Concerto. It is a tragically beautiful melody with the back and forth between violin and recorders more agitated. The accompanying strings have more to do here than in the first movement. The solo violin mostly joins them and lets the recorders have the show.

The bright flavor is back in the third which has shed all lightness for a busy fugue that begins in the celli and makes its way to the solo instruments. The counterpoint between Solo Violin and recorders in insane. The violin has another “mid-movement crisis” of wild 32nd notes which break into harsh yet speed chord suspension and resolution. This generates a major fugue of such ambitious scale that there seems to be no stopping its expansion. The recorders join uttering broad strokes of chords which are suspended but instead of resolving suspend into other chords. After a few measures of this, we don’t know musically where the heck we are or existentially who we are for that matter. It finally breaks with the recorders and violin playing back and forth. The fugue has been going on in the continuo and while the soli attempt to bring the original melody back they merely can dance over top it as the musical tidal wave builds to a brief stop has the chords are allowed to get make to normal to finish the piece. This certainly isn’t what the lightness of the first movement led us to believe the piece would become.

I can imagine Bach thinking, “Oh, I’ll try something light this time. No fugues this time, I promise” with his resolve loosening in the second movement until he throws caution to the wind for the third one.

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