Retrospect Ensemble - Bach: Harpsichord Concertos -

This release fizzes with energy. I've long preferred hearing these concertos played on a modern piano. But listening to Matthew Halls's harpsichord performances have made me completely reassess the music. Velvety piano tone usually lends Bach's keyboard music plenty of plush gravitas, with the D minor concerto emerging as darkly romantic, full of brooding angst. Here, the music's character is sparkier, more pugnacious. Halls's exuberant solo line sparks and glitters, pitched against the Retrospect Ensemble's immaculate, small-scale backing. You hear the same effect in the G minor concerto, a shrewd recycling of the A minor violin concerto, its slow movement sounding radically different. Even when Halls retreats into the background he's compelling, the harpsichord adding seductive glitter to the fruity string textures.

Bach's Fifth Brandenburg Concerto is often cited as the first major work for keyboard and orchestra. Halls doesn't play us that, opening the disc instead with Bach's shrewd reimagining of the Fourth Brandenburg. It's transposed down a tone but the tutti recorders remain, adding a touch of warmth to the sonorities. The A major concerto, possibly a recomposed oboe work, is effervescent. The recorded sound is stunningly vivid. Never underestimate Bach's capacity to entertain.
09 March 2013