Certain works by J.S. Bach call to mind a fresco in an ancient cathedral where only the last layer of paint is visible. Or a picture by an Old Master painted over an earlier image hidden from view because the artist ran out of canvas.
The music of the great German composer contains many such enigmas: Bach frequently based new compositions on works written in previous years, many of which perished in their original form. But we now can recapture music that was lost forever.
The four concertos by J.S. Bach (1685–1750) presented in this album were written during the composer’s Köthen period (1717–1723). For many years we only knew them as lost originals of Bach’s ‘reworking’, the later keyboard concertos (end of the 1730s). Considering such features as the key, the range of solo melodies and the specific characteristics of melodic figures and phrases, music scholars have managed to establish which instruments the original versions of these concertos were written for. This has enabled scientifically verified ‘reconstructions’ of the originals to appear in the second half of the 20th century. To the delight of performers, several excellent of virtuoso compositions for oboe and orchestra appeared to be among them.
Alexei Utkin – Oboe, Oboe d’amore
Hermitage Chamber Orchestra
Total time: 01:02:41
|Original Recording Format|
5th Studio of the Russian Television and Radio Broadcasting, Moscow, Russia
|Recording Type & Bit Rate||
|Release Date||August 28, 2015|
Classical.Net SACD Review
This is the first in a series of three SACDs devoted to music which Bach either wrote originally for oboe and/or which is usually accepted as appropriate for that instrument; or has been specifically so arranged. Volume 2 (CM0032003) and volume 3 (CM0012004) have been reviewed on Classical Net in recent months – generally favorably.
Caro Mitis specializes in recordings of high sound quality (only SACDs are usually available in their catalog) featuring specific repertoire, rather than themes, or “star” performers. Hence the logic of recording over three disks a body of music with its own character and place in the Bach canon. It works well; the music is appealing, appealingly arranged and well performed – by the Moscow chamber group, Hermitage. Founded in 2000, it’s probably the only such ensemble directed by an oboist. Their playing is inspiring and more than competent.
Although this means that Hermitage has – or chooses – to specialize in transcriptions of other works for oboe – as here, good arguments can be made out for that format in the cases of the four concerti presented here. Although the title of the disk, “Works for Oboe” will, for some, remain open to debate. BWVs 1053, 1055, 1060 and 1064 all date from Bach’s period at Köthen (1717-1723) where they form the originals of concerti which resurfaced in the 1730s for the keyboard. You’ll certainly recognize them. The premise of this release (indeed of the three volume series) is that, given Bach’s sensitivity to the qualities of the instruments for which he wrote, it can be safely deduced that these were originally written for the oboe. The full, resonant, expressive sound; the intonation of the sweet and “affectionate” woodwind instrument (the oboe is the only instrument to have the appendage, “love”… “oboe d’amore” – often used in Bach’s choral and vocal music when the theme is love); and its tessitura all help to make the claim that these concerti were originally conceived for that instrument.
They’re certainly persuasively played by Hermitage’s dynamic director, Alexei Utkin. He brings to the performances a precision and tight focus that only enhances the sense that these were works which Bach prized highly. Charged yet unsensational, fluid yet not floppy, and articulate without being rhetorical, each movement adds in impact and color to the last.
It can also be assumed that when Bach wrote for the oboe, if not actually experimenting (which at times he most definitely was), he was exploring an instrument for which timbre and sound profile were as important as an ability to produce a “colorless” melody. It may also be conjectured that as Bach grew older, he became more interested in melody and structure (for their own sake) than in texture. Hence the later reworking for keyboard of the pieces here.
If those are sustainable thoughts, then the greater the credit to Utkin and Hermitage for not over-painting, over-coloring – and definitely not varnishing – music whose tone and harmony, structure and tunefulness are certainly quite sufficient on their own. The approach of these musicians is un-selfconscious and purposeful. The music is played as they contend it was originally written. Without undue excitement, yet full of vigor and life.
The acoustic (the recording was made in the studios of the Russian Television and Radio Broadcasting Company) is lucid and full – just right to add atmosphere (but little more) to the exuberance and melancholy of the music. Mercifully, the booklet that comes with this first in the series is much better written than those of the later two. Whilst still a little florid in places, it achieves its purpose of truly informing the listener about the provenance and nature of the music. If you have (either of) the other two releases in this series, you’ll want to complete the collection. If you simply love Bach, it will appeal because both of its interest musicologically and of its technical accomplishment. Needless to say, (Baroque) woodwind enthusiasts will find much in this volume and this series to delight.
The adoption of the trio sonata form is the distinctive feature that unites the compositions collected in the second volume of the series dedicated to Bach’s oboe music by Alexei Utkin and members of the Hermitage Chamber Orchestra. In principle, the considerations expressed in relation to the previous one remains valid for this album.
In this as in the other case, we are faced with readings that, even if carried out with modern instruments, they refer in several respects to the guidelines of historically informed executive practice. The concertation is thus always agile and terse, the times marked by fluency, as well as the phrasing, whose reference model is recognizable in a vocal ideal inclined to privilege the values of discursiveness.
Common to the two recordings is the introduction, in their respective programs, of pieces originally written for different instrumental purposes, transcribed for the occasion in an oboe version by Utkin himself. In this case, it is the Concerto for two violins, strings, and continuo BWV 1043, presented here with oboe and violin.
On the other hand, a different case is that of the Sonata BWV 1030b, which – due to its position within the engraving and, above all, by virtue of its adhesion to the model of the sonata a tre, from an aesthetic point of view – represents the heart of the program: since it is not an arrangement of the most famous flute composition, but rather the reconstruction of the piece, which has arrived in a fragmentary state, from which this one had to draw the moves.
The sonata seems to me to be particularly remarkable for the proposed interpretation. To adapt to the tonal characteristics of the harpsichord used, softer than ringing, inclined to sing (it can still be admired in the Italian Concerto placed at the end of the disc as a bonus), Utikin chooses to adopt a smaller, sweet and transparent sound, such as to allow a balance between the parts that would otherwise be impossible, and through which the piece reveals a vein of tenuous melancholy.
The libretto contains articulated writing by Roman Nassonov, in which the history of the compositions performed is accurately reconstructed. Greater clarity, on the other hand, would have been desirable in compiling the list of the songs themselves, in which the identities of the musicians involved, from time to time, in leading roles alongside the soloist are unclear.
neue musikzeitung: Originalklänge aus dem Osten
Das Moskauer Label „Caro Mitis“ mit neuen SACDs
Die „Originalklang“-Welle mit ihrem Anspruch, Alte Musik historisch korrekter aufzuführen als bisher, begann vor vielen Jahren mit Nikolaus Harnoncourt in Österreich, dem Collegium Aureum in Deutschland und mit etlichen Ensembles in England und den Niederlanden. Heute gibt’s solche Ensembles in ganz Europa und auch in näher liegenden osteuropäischen Ländern in großer Zahl und in unverändert spannender Konkurrenz. Jetzt aber kommen Aufnahmen in historischer Spielpraxis auf alten Instrumenten sogar aus Russland und sie begeistern.
Vor wenigen Jahren fanden sich unter Leitung des bekannten Oboisten Alexei Utkin junge Absolventen des Moskauer Tschaikowsky-Konservatoriums zum Kammerorchester „Hermitage“ zusammen, das für das Moskauer Label „Caro Mitis“ (lateinisch so etwas wie „Reife Frucht“– die Moskauer lieben offenbar lateinische Namen) aufnimmt. Aus ihm formierten sich weitere Ensembles: einmal eine historisch ausgerichtete Gruppierung mit dem wie ein Motto klingenden lateinischen Namen „Pratum Integrum“ (etwa „Blühende Wiese“), die Werke des Barock, der Frühklassik und der Klassik für die Serie „Eximium“ aufnimmt; daneben gibt es für Zeitgenössisches auf modernen Instrumenten eine zweite Aufnahmeserie „Eminens“ (beide lateinischen Wörter bedeutaen dasselbe, nämlich „Hervorragendes“, auch das eine programmatische Bezeichnung).
Unter Utkins Leitung – er spielte schon vor zwanzig Jahren mit den „Moskauer Virtuosen“ – und mit ihm als Solisten erschienen nun die ersten – von bewährten Tonmeistern aus Holland und Belgien als SACD hergestellten – Silberscheiben: von J.S. Bach gleich drei Folgen von Oboenwerken, Originale und Bearbeitungen; dann mit dem Titel „Oboenspitze“ eine SACD mit Oboenkompositionen von W.A. Mozart; schließlich als Weltersteinspielung eine Aufnahme mit Werken des hierzulande unbekannten Mozart-Zeitgenossen Anton Ferdinand Tietz.
Die Bach-Serie enthält die BWV-Nummern 1030b, 1043, 1053, 1055, 1059, 1060, 1064, 1066, 1067, 1069 – dazu als „Bonus-Track“ das „Italienische Konzert“ BWV 971. Dem Kenner fällt auf, dass Utkin in einer eigenen Bearbeitung den Flötenpart in Bachs 2. Orchestersuite BWV 1067 auf seiner Oboe spielt, eine ungewohnte, nicht nur klanglich betörende Alternative; das Doppelkonzert für zwei Violinen BWV 1043 ist – nach der bekannten Fassung des Doppelkonzerts BWV 1060, das in dieser Sammlung auch enthalten ist – für Oboe und Violine bearbeitet, eine in ihrer ungewohnten Klangkombination sehr attraktive Fassung. Es sind nicht so sehr solche ungewohnten neuen Tonfarben, die faszinieren, sondern es ist in allen Stücken – ob Kammermusik, Konzerte oder Orchesterwerke – vor allem die mitreißende Mischung aus einer erstaunlichen technischen Präzision mit einer fast explosiv musikantischen Spielfreude, die einen in den Bann zieht – sie erinnert an das „Concerto Köln“ in seinen ersten Jahren, als es mit einer solchen fast schon extrem riskanten Musizierweise die Zuhörer von den Sitzen riss.
Und diese Faszination gilt auch für die Mozart-SACD – mit dem Quintett KV 516 (hier für Oboe und Streichquartett bearbeitet), dem Flöten-Andante KV 315 (statt Flöte hier natürlich Utkins Oboe) und dem Oboenkonzert KV 314 – und ebenso für die wiederentdeckten Kompositionen von Anton Ferdinand Tietz (1742-1810), der in Nürnberg und Wien wirkte, bevor er 1771 nach St. Petersburg ging, wo er Kammermusiker am Hof der Zarin Katharina II. wurde. Die Silberscheibe enthält eine für ihn repräsentative Werkauswahl mit einer mit fröhlichen Trompetensignalen beginnenden C-Dur-Sinfonie, einem Streichquintett und einem Streichquartett – beide Werke im intimen d-Moll lassen bei allen Haydn- und Mozart-Anklängen deutlich Eigenständiges erkennen –, einem originellen, höchst melodienreichen und anspruchsvoll virtuosen zweisätzigen C-Dur-Duo für Geige und Cello und schließlich einem aparten Es-Dur-Violinkonzert: alles Werke, die sich nicht nur durch überraschende harmonische Akzente und dynamische Effekte, sondern vor allem mit deutlichen Anklängen an sich abzeichnende romantische Ideale auszeichnen. Auf mehr „Reife Früchte“ aus Moskau darf man gespannt sein…
The Hermitage Chamber Orchestra consists of young music graduates who play on modern instruments. They were founded in 2000 by the indefatigable oboe virtuoso Alexei Utkin, and comprise two first and three second violins, two violas, two cellos, a double bass, bassoon, flute, and oboe. In this series of 3 discs, they play all JS Bach’s extant non-vocal works with prominent oboe parts, together with some transcriptions for oboe from Bach’s other instrumental works by Utkin.
Many listeners are aware that Bach’s popular series of keyboard concertos written for the Leipzig Collegium Musicum were themselves arrangements of ‘lost’ earlier instrumental concertos. Through a variety of means, scholars in the late C20th were able to establish the original solo components and recreate the scores from the published keyboard versions. The Caro Mitis booklet does not indicate the authors of these re-compositions, but it seems that the scores are included in the New Bach Edition Urtext. The present disc gives us an opportunity to hear the ‘original’ versions (composed in the Cöthen period) bearing in mind that the music is all Bach, only the solo instrumentation is changed.
The Concerto for Oboe d’amore, Strings and Basso Continuo in A major BWV 1055 was the original version of the Leipzig Harpsichord Concerto in A major. The oboe d’amore, an alto form with a bulbous end, was prized by Baroque composers, especially Bach, for its warm, rich tone. Utkin shows in the quick outer movements that it can also play with graceful agility, but the heart of the work is in the slow movement, where one of Bach’s almost unending outpourings of melody is played heartbreakingly by Utkin, with ripe tone, superb breath control and ineffable expression.
Bach re-arranged his Concerto for Violin, Oboe, Strings and Basso Continuo in D minor BWV 1060 for his Concerto for 2 harpsichords in C minor. The reconstructed original retains the relaxed lyrical character of the harpsichord work, but with added colour from the interplay of the oboe and violin. Utkin uses an oboe by Lorée.
The Concerto for Oboe, Strings and Basso Continuo in F major BWV 1053 became the Harpsichord Concerto in E major, and it is fascinating to hear its liltingly familiar tunes in new clothing. Utkin is wonderfully responsive to its sense of fun and grace.
The final concerto in the disc is a transcription by Utkin himself, using the same scholarly methods, of the 3 Harpsichord Concerto BWV 1064. It originated in a concerto for 3 violins, but Utkin decided to use Oboe, Flute and Violin to represent the intertwining and chiming of three violins, thereby extending the oboe repertoire. Bach would certainly not have objected to such changes in instrumentation in his works; he was a pragmatic and practical Baroque composer, dealing with limited resources, so he would use what he had, or simply experiment with new sound combinations. This tuneful work has an arresting opening in its new guise, and the three soloists show exemplary rapport and skill in rapid passage work.
The ripieno playing on this disc is quite simply breathtaking in its tight ensemble and natural flow; the very essence of the Baroque “affekt”. Far from the forced speeds and squeezed tone or gritty approach often touted as historically correct these days, the players have a lightness of touch and springy rhythmic action which is both graceful, expressive, and irresistibly toe-tapping. Utkin’s artistry as a soloist is just phenomenal; clearly inspiring his young players with his expressive lines and virtuoso passages. The orchestral playing is underpinned with a solid engine-room of continuo; cellos and basses laying down a foundation of buoyant rhythms, and the brilliant bassoon is also clearly working hard in florid part-writing.
Complimenting these stellar performances, the recording provided by Polyhymnia is one of their best. The recording venue in Moscow was one of the studios of the Russian Television and Radio Broadcasting Company (RTR), of suitable size for the chamber orchestra. Polyhymnia has permanently stationed in Russia a location recording set-up equipped for 8-track DSD, high-resolution PCM, and surround monitoring, under the care of Essential Music, the Caromitis label’s parent. For this disc, a Meitner DSD analogue to digital converter was used. The Hermitage band is spread out just behind the loudspeakers, and the position of every musician can be determined. Soloists, although just in front of the orchestra, are not over-close. Very little key noise is heard, but Utkin’s intake of breath signals the start of each piece. The balance notably allows all the inner parts to be followed easily in the transparent sound-field. I would say this is a near-perfect recording of a chamber orchestra.
Presentation is stylish, with a long and helpful essay by Roman Nassonov, beautifully translated into English by Patricia Donegan, with Russian and German versions.
Every note on this disc is pure joy, a marriage of exceptional musicianship and state-of-the-art engineering. Unmissable.
J. S. BACH: Oboe Works, Vol. 1
Three of the works presented here are reconstructions that are based on a good deal of scholarly skullduggery over the latter part of the twentieth century. According to the author of the liner notes, Bach’s keyboard concertos are “re-compositions,” almost certainly based on earlier works for oboe, violin and strings, the scores of which have since been painstakingly reconstructed as presented here. The fourth work is a transcription by leader Alexei Utkin for oboe, flute and violin, and is rooted in the same research efforts. Regardless of how we arrived at this point, these recordings as presented on this disc from Russian label Caro Mitis represent the best of the best; while anyone familiar with Bach’s keyboard concertos will immediately recognize their origins in these works, they possess a freshness and immediacy that are an absolute joy to listen to!
A quick read through the supplied technical information reveals that all the microphone amplification was custom built by Polyhymnia, with the DSD conversion by Meitner and Pyramix, and the proof is in the listening. These recordings just sparkle with life – they’re among the most realistic, natural sounding SACDs I currently own. This is a superb effort from Caro Mitis, and as pleasantly surprised as I was with the elegant packaging and beautiful label art, the real treat came with listening to these excellent discs. I could keep piling on the superlatives, but I think you get the picture – these discs are a must-have, and very highly recommended!
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