J.S. Bach wrote, or rewrote, seven solo harpsichord concertos. Most of them began life as showpieces for other instruments – violin, oboe d’amore – and occasionally their potted history makes for an awkward conversation between harpsichord and the rest of the band. Not here. Andreas Staier’s grit, flair and expressive freedom, plus Freiburger Barockorchester’s athletic ensemble playing, makes these performances bounce and swing.
Staier embraces the chunky chordal textures gained over the single-line originals and gives them a thick, meaty attack that is great fun: try the last movement of BWV 1058 – better known as the A-minor violin concerto – to see what I mean. His harpsichord is a 10-year-old Parisian instrument modelled on a Hass of 1734, almost exactly the date of the concertos themselves. The sound is brawny and dark-hewn, with melodies that sing every bit as much as a bowed or blown instrument. (Kate Molleson / The Guardian)
Nowadays, J.S. Bach's seven harpsichord concertos are most often performed on a grand piano with modern orchestral accompaniment, largely for the sake of striking a proper balance of dynamics and instrumentation. In light of this preference, it has become a little difficult to find historically informed versions that sound close to what Bach would have heard. These period style performances by Andreas Staier and the Freiburger Barockorchester provide a welcome alternative to the standard modern releases, and listeners with a taste for authenticity can be assured that Staier's scholarship and interpretations are impeccable. Staier plays a replica of a 1734 harpsichord, and the small ensemble of recorders, strings, and continuo is appropriately scaled to the music's textures and the balance of soloist and orchestra. Harmonia Mundi's recording is elaborate, involving spot and omnidirectional microphones that capture the players with remarkable subtlety and presence, so all the nuances and details of these exciting performances can be heard clearly without sacrificing the full-bodied sound. (Blair Sanderson)