, May 2005
"The star of this disk is the Bach d minor concerto, an instant sensation upon its release, forming the backbone of any 78rpm Bach collection, and never long out of print since then. This restoration is from 12" 78rpm commercial release disks. But in 1940 American Columbia was starting to record masters on 16" acetate disks which allowed a longer continuous playing time in a single take. If this recording is from one of those masters, it would partially account for the continuous sound of this performance, a strenuous perpetuum mobile by the violin who in this work can never for a second merge into the ripieno for a rest, in contrast with the numbered Bach solo violin concerti. Perhaps some day we may have direct from Sony a true ADD restoration of this recording from the original 16" acetate master if one exists.
Comparison of the 1936 version of the slow movement from BWV 1056R with the 1954 version shows Szigeti in the later version paying a lot more attention to what has since become known as original performance practice. The 1937 performance is a 19th Century version, in the original key of the keyboard concerto, played by the strings only with "expression" at a slow tempo; the 1954 version would not be out of place today, with authentic ornamentation, restored key signature, and harpsichord continuo.
The first movement of the Tartini concerto has a rich lyrical mood with the usual "nostalgic" sense imputed to music of this period when played in 19th century Romantic concerto style; it sounds odd to us now, forcing this Classical concerto into an anachronistic aesthetic. The slow movement is, as expected, very slow, and very sweet. Szigeti sounds somewhat baffled by the last movement, never quite figuring out how it should go, but trying to avoid too steady a beat. The harpsichord is nicely forward throughout.
Perlman gives us modern, emotional performances with clear respect for the original aesthetic, perhaps the best stylistic compromise between old and new for this music, although with works recorded as often as these, everyone will have favourite performances. The Ayo/Michelucci recording is a living fossil, a true 19th century version, with waves of throbbing passion, a delicious, lingering ecstasy of sound. That might not have been quite what Bach had in mind, but even he would have been drying his eyes at the end of the slow movements. This is a rare, precious look at the way it was in 1875. Not for everyone: the Gramophone critic, his head stuck way up his authenticity, was viciously contemptuous when this CD issue appeared, so you may have trouble finding the disk, but it’s worth any effort to obtain.
Probably the very best and most convincing performance ever done of BWV 1052R, in modern digital sound and thoroughly authentic, idiomatic style is by Karl Suske and Max Pommer conducting the Neues Bachiches Collegium Musicum of Leipzig on Capriccio "1 plus." Likewise for BWV 1056R, Isabelle Faust and Helmut Rilling shine brightly for us on Hänssler Classics."