Claudio Abbado, surely one of the great conductors working today, formed a small orchestra, called Orchestra Mozart, in 2004. This group consists of several world-renowned instrumentalists and a number of exceedingly fine young players, mostly from Italy. Among the 'names' in the orchestra are Michala Petri, recorder; Giuliano Carmignola, principal violin; Reinhold Friedrich, trumpet; Jacques Zoon, flute; Alois Posch, bass; Alessio Allegrini, horn; and Ottavio Dantone, harpsichord. In their early seasons they concentrated on music by Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven and Schubert. But in 2007 they prepared all six of Bach's Brandenburg Concertos and toured them throughout Italy, with concerts in Bologna, Ferrara, Pisa, Prato, Reggio Emilia, Venice, Modena, Verona and Bolzano. This DVD is a live recording of the April 21, 2007 concert they played in the visually gorgeous and acoustically excellent Teatro Municipale Romolo Valli in Reggio Emilia.
The players (except for cellos and harpsichord) stand for the performances. Consequently there is considerable swaying of bodies and generally greater animation of the instrumentalists. I mention this because in a visual medium like a DVD this makes for more engaging viewing. The video of this concert focuses almost entirely on the instrumentalists; we rarely see Abbado. I like this approach as I'm much more interested in what the players are doing. One does notice, though, that Abbado is conducting without score. And indeed he's not even conducting at all in the Sixth Concerto -- that's the one without violins; its group of seven players are truly a chamber ensemble.
The principals couldn't be better. I was immensely impressed, as I have been in other recordings, by Allegrini, who has to one of the finest horn players around. As well, I loved the blending of Petri's and Nikolaj Tarasov's recorders in the Second. That concerto was played last on the program -- the sequence was Concertos 1, 3, 5, 6, 4, 2 -- and in response to the enthusiastic applause of the audience, the group played the final Allegro assai of the No. 2 and this time Petri substituted a sopranino recorder for her usual instrument, a piquant touch. Carmignola's lickety-split violin obbligato in the opening Allegro of that concerto has to be seen and heard to be believed.
Dantone was superb in the supremely virtuosic harpsichord part in the Fifth Concerto. The audio didn't bring out the sound of his instrument as much as I would have liked, but I rather suspect it was true to the actual sound in the hall. And I did lean forward to hear it better, which one often actually does in live performances in my experience.
Abbado's approach with the concertos is to take them fairly briskly. He does fairly often slow down slightly for cadences but there is not much else in the way of tempo variation. Usually, frankly, I felt he set the opening tempo and then these excellent musicians played as chamber musicians would, making subtle adjustments to the playing of their colleagues. This is not a criticism of Abbado; rather it is a commendation of his lack of ego and his willingness to let his musicians play together in their own way.
I cannot recommend this DVD highly enough. Often, when I've listened to or attended concerts featuring all six of these works I've lost attention somewhere along the way. This time I was energized for the entire 100 minutes of the concert. (Indeed, as I write this I'm listening again to the delightful No. 2.)
Time: 100mins; Format: NTSC 16:9; Sound PCM Stereo, Dolby 5.1, DTS 5.1; Region: 0 (worldwide). The disc is also available in Blu-Ray format Johann Sebastian Bach: Brandenburg Concertos 1-6 [Blu-ray]