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CD reviews: Classical.

Byline: Christopher Morley

BACH Violin Concertos (EMI Classics): Played 'blind', this is a record which will stimulate and absorb, with interpretations of Bach's four great works for concertante violin which argue the case for de-hackneyfying (now there's a word) these well-worn staples of the repertoire.

Attack is positive, with spectacular clarity of articulation and phrasing. The performers are not afraid to drive the music hard where appropriate, as in the finale to the E major Concerto, almost impatient with the courtliness of its minuet context; there is no silky blandness in these readings, even though the accompanying orchestra is the renownedly suave Berlin Philharmonic. Perhaps their 'period' approach as exemplified in conductor Claudio Abbado's new complete Beethoven symphony cycle with them has spun off into these Bach performances; certainly there is an exhilarating air of confidence as they shape their (conductor-less) contributions to match those of the soloist, whose ornamentation and cadential flourishes trip off the fingers as though minting the music for the first time.

Here is a soloist who, in tuttis with his orchestra, emerges democratically as a primus inter pares. The close recorded acoustic highlights his own instrument against his colleagues' background, in a perspective which reproduces the probable scale of the venue where these wonderful works had their first hearings.

Solo collaborators in these treasurable accounts are oboist Albrecht Mayer (the Concerto for Violin and Oboe) and Daniel Stabrawa (the peerless Double Violin Concerto); and the soloist himself is Kennedy, pictured, a musician of immense natural gifts and dedicated application. Past recordings have sometimes been controversial (who could forget the microtones in the cadenzas to his Beethoven Violin Concerto?), as has his sometimes troubled lifestyle, but anyone whose prejudices stand in the way of appreciating the quality of these performances is a fool to himself.

Not that the packaging does Kennedy's musical integrity any favours - 'Kennedy plays Bach with the Berlin Philharmonic' - with an insert-booklet all designer-twaddle, the printing difficult to read against the gloomy background, and the predictable in-crowd type of acknowledgements. I haven't bothered to try to read it, and I suggest you do the same, concentrating instead on these gloriously vital performances.


Christopher Morley
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Nov 25, 2000
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