Friday, 30 November 2012

Brandenburg Boult

I was moved last month when I visited Köthen in the province of Sachsen-Anhalt. I visited the Schloss where Bach spent a number of years composing mainly instrumental music – including the six Brandenburg concertos. Standing where Bach had stood some 295 years ago was a humbling experience.

I grew up with the Brandenburgs, and made their acquaintance again in a monster box of orchestral music conducted by Adrian Boult, no less, in the early 1970s. These Brandenburgs join those by Klemperer and the Busch Chamber Orchestra on the “old fashioned Bach” shelf. But, to tell the truth, Bach responds to almost any treatment as long as the musical texture is transparent, the rhythmic integrity is preserved, nothing is too fast or too slow, and the players have a somewhat extrovert dexterity when called for. Boult's Brandenburgs impress; only in the third concerto (strings only) did I long for a smaller band of players. Elsewhere, the LPO forms a tutti band, and the LPO principals have a field day playing their instruments (during that period, the LPO had some excellent principals on the main desks). Boult, as ever, conducts impeccably; he was never a man for airs, graces and attention-seeking. I saw him twice in person: once when he was rehearsing an orchestra (in the Schubert Great C major symphony) at a hall in Birmingham, and once at the Midland Hotel in Birmingham where he was having breakfast alone at a table next to mine. On both occasions, he had the same smiling, unruffled expression on his face. No eccentricities with Sir Adrian and, to my surprise, he suits Johann Sebastian Bach perfectly.

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