Alina Ibragimova has previously tackled Bach’s solo violin Sonatas and Partitas with great success, and here she presents an equally superb recording of the Bach violin concerti.
JS Bach’s violin concertos are oft-recorded, so new performances have to face down most of the 20th (and 21st) century’s greatest violinists – not an easy task! However, with sensitive accompaniment from ensemble Arcangelo and director Jonathan Cohen, Ibragimova brings a fresh and lively approach to these popular favourites.
Only two of the works on this disc are officially labelled as “violin concertos”, the Concerto in A Minor, BWV1041, and the Concerto in E Major, BWV1042. In contrast, the Concerto in A Major, BWV1055, the Concerto in F Minor, BWV1056, and the Concerto in D Minor, BWV1052 all exist as harpsichord concerti, but due to various quirks, scholars have suggested that the pieces once existed in violin concerto format as well. Parts of the keyboard versions contain passages that seem oddly reminiscent of violinistic writing, complete with double-stops and convenient open strings. The theory is that Bach wrote a violin original, transcribed it for harpsichord (or other instruments), and at some point the violin original was lost, leaving only the transcription.
Although these works are more commonly heard in their original incarnation, Ibragimova successfully argues for the violin version as well. To me, the Concerto in D Minor, BWV1052 is one of the most thrilling of Bach’s ensemble works, complete with a heart-stopping first movement demisemiquaver passage for the soloist. For this section to be successful the performer has to continually drive the music harder and harder – the tension of the piece doesn’t dissipate for a long time! I’ve always admired the tremendously exciting Trevor Pinnock recording of the Concerto in D Minor, BWV1052 on the harpsichord, but Ibragimova and Arcangelo prove themselves up to the challenge, bringing tremendous drive to the piece.
Equally rousing are the other reconstructed concertos, with the Concerto in F Minor, BWV1056 (played in G Minor in this version) being particularly lovely. There’s a slightly odd mixing choice in the Adagio (and other slow movements) that surprised me at first – the soft-voiced lute is given the same volume as the rest of the ensemble. It’s not how Bach would have heard it, but it works well.
An excellent disc then of both the favourites and the new reconstructions that can easily stand alongside the earlier recordings of these pieces.