Friday 23 May 2014

Review of Switched-on Brandenburgs - JS Bach's Brandenburg Concerti done on synthesizer by Walter Carlos (aka Wendy Carlos)


Considered strictly in terms of musicality, this album contains some of the best performances of Bach's Brandenburgs I have ever heard (and I have heard a lot of them!).

Of course, some will not be able to tolerate - let alone enjoy - synthesizer performances; but the detailed musicality, fluency and detail of these performances is wonderful.

Created from 1973-1980 in the very early days of synthesizers, these were pretty-much note-by-note constructions - which explains the loving detail - but the shapeliness and fluidity of the phrasing and dynamics is impossible to explain - just a marvel.

Brandenburg One is the best all round performance of this concerto I know of - and the only fully satisfying one; the special delight of Two is the continuo baseline - which is beautifully and lucidly articulated; Three is great all-round - with a particularly fine 'improvised' second movement; Four is good; the First Movement of Five is top notch - with the cycle of fifths especially satisfying; and the first movement of Six is almost the best thing of all: really exciting (with some extra bubbling ascending sound-effect scales adding pep and verve).

Don't take my word for it: these realizations were endorsed by no less a Bach-ian than Glenn Gould. Probably they are a one-off - a never-to-be-repeated confluence of now primitive but then cutting-edge technology; and the one and only person capable of using it to create - not merely a gimmick - but real music of permanent value.