The Brandenburg Project juxtaposes the well-known Brandenburg Concertos by JS Bach with six contemporary works especially commissioned by the Swedish Chamber Orchestra over a decade or so, and premiered in a series of two concerts during the 2018 Proms in London. The Brandenburg Concertos themselves have a long recorded history commencing with the fabled Busch set on EMI (featuring pianist Rudolf Serkin in the Fifth) which dates from the late 1930s. It is still much loved, as are other historical recordings by the likes of Casals and Munch. In more recent decades, the concertos have more often become the fare of the original instrument brigade with fine recordings by the likes of Pinnock and Il Giardino Armonico. Here is a set played on modern instruments informed by wisdom gained from recent practice and academia.

The Brandenburg Project

The six concertos are given fine performances with superb soloists including the Finnish violinist Pekka Kuusisto, trumpeter Håkan Hardenberger and harpsichord player Mahan Esfahani. There are, of course, many other alternative sets of note and this is an expensive way to go for a Brandenburg cycle as it is a three CD set recorded in optimal sound. However, what sets it apart is the addition of a further six contemporary concertos which show how these works continue to resonate with audiences of our time.

The six composers chosen to this end are a rather impressive lot: Mark-Anthony Turnage, Steven Mackey, Anders Hillborg, Olga Neuwirth, Uri Caine and Australia’s own Brett Dean. As a cycle given with the Bach works, there is much which resonates and generally the choices work well together, particularly where the composer adopts similar instrumentation, musical structures and themes – as in Brett Dean’s Approach – Prelude to a Canon

Two of the concertante works were specifically made to order – Turnage’s Maya for the avantgarde cellist Maya Beiser and Hillborg’s Bach Materia for the powerful Kuusisto. Both Hillborg and Neuwirth rely much on repetition bringing about a sound world closer to Tavener (in the case of the Turnage) and the bringing together of typewriters in Olga Neuwirth’s Aello in order to suggest the percussive qualities of the harpsichord along with re-pitched instruments and synthesizer, borders on the baffling. 

Nevertheless, for those obsessed with contemporary counterpoint and the grandfather of them all, there is much to appreciate here. How it stands up to repeated listening is another guess. 

Listen of Apple Music.

Composer: Bach, Turnage, Mackey, Hillborg, Neuwirth, Caine and Dean
Works: Concertos and other works
Performers: Swedish Chamber Orchestra/Thomas Dausgaard
Label: BIS BIS2199

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