This excellent recording on the Naxos label by the Cologne Chamber Orchestra conducted by Helnut Müller-Brühl features four concertos by the great composer with emphasis on the lighter-sounding instruments of harpsichord, recorder, flute and violin. With all of the harmonic richness and melodic expressiveness representative of the baroque style mastered by Bach, the disc provides a great cross-section of concertos, an area of Bach's work which received relatively scant attention compared to his organ and clavier (pre-piano) work.
The Concerto in A Minor for harpsichord, violin and flute is, as the liner notes observe, a companion piece of the fifth Brandenburg Concerto, a famed series, though it is in a slower tempo and with a more restrained sense of dynamics. Copies of the score, however, are from students who made their transcriptions after Bach's death in 1750, so estimates place the composition at around 1740.
The Concerto in F major for two recorders and harpsichord is immediately familiar with its bright and famed melody being the precursor of the fourth Brandenburg Concerto. Dating also to about 1740, the work includes a single violin part reproduced on the harpsichord, while it is fascinating to hear the complement of recorders with violin.
Utilizing three harpsichords, the Concerto in D Minor is complicated and brisk piece and appears to date to 1730. It was also said to be a featured piece for the master and two sons, Wilhelm Friedemann and Carl Philipp Emanuel, to perform. The second movement is slower and more stately with a lilting dance movement guiding it. Finally, the third movement, performed in a fugue form, is a dense and uplifting one, providing a nice closure to the piece.
The final of the four concertos is in C is also for three harpsichords, though it is performed with violins here. Two separate works are combined here and the performance is very beautiful with the sweeping grace of the violins contrasting with the crisp sounds of the keyboards. A simpler, more subdued second movement has a slower tempo and a yearning melody of great emotional content. Returning to a faster tempo and more complex harmonization, much like in the first movement, the third contains pretty performances on the violin and provide an excellent way to end a very entertaining disc.
Bach's amazing compositions with their palette of refined harmonics, gorgeous melodies, and demands placed on the soloists and accompanying musicians is on full display and the Cologne Chamber Orchestra deserves kudos for their sensitive renderings of these fine works.