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. It’s almost impossible to hear everything at once with different soloists jerking the listener into different aural directions. Which musical acrobat do you follow? Suddenly all is quiet save for the harpsichord. What’s going on? Is this? Could this be…a CADENZA? In the middle of a Baroque piece where they haven’t been invented yet? At first just seems as if the harpsichord is just going to recap on the melody but it goes deeper and deeper fooling us with deceptive cadence after deceptive cadence as if to say, “You think this is all this piece is about? I’ll SHOW you what this piece is about.” This is so groundbreaking and earthshattering to music it raises the question of whether Bach was a time traveler. His cadenza musical rant descends CHROMATICALLY in an age where chromatic scales also weren’t in existence to a threatening trill which ratchets up a scale as the other hand builds builds up suspense with arpeggios. Instead of only  sevenths added to the power chord build up, Bach gives us NINTHS bringing the tension to a breaking point resolving in a re-chorus of the original melody leaving the audience time to collect their jaws and applaud two movements early.

The second movement is for soloists only. The three instruments weave out a somber tune leaving chord resolution to the harpsichordist for the most part. At times the violin and flute share the same role as the two recorders in the Fourth Concerto. But mostly they echo one another throughout this mostly dark walk into the woods of sadness resolving in a bittersweet chord.

The third movement in two begins immediately with counterpoint between violin and flute melodies until the harpsichord enters to ratchet everything into fugue territory. With the orchestra coming in afterwards with the same melody,we have a possible Quadruple Fugue on our hands. The difficulty with duplet meter is that the phrases can be in 4’s 6’s or even 8’s without any indication of when and where it will stop. The echoing here happens mid-melody and is amazingly difficult to count but fun to listen to. The bright and jaunty melody is a relief after the dark second movement. What is with Bach and these moody and somber second movements anyway? They are beautiful but hint at some terrible tragedy, perhaps the fact that he would have to leave his then current employer Prince Leopold with whom he had had the time of his career until Princess Leopold came to town and spoiled all the fun. The brain boggling dance comes to an end finishing the crown jewel of the Brandenburg Concerto collection.

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