In many ways this is a special recording. It features first-desks from the Chicago Sym. playing two of Bach's Brandenburg Concertos, and so far beyond the average Baroque ensemble are they that one yearns for the other four. Just to hear the amazing trumpet solos in Concerto no. 2 by the legendary Adolph Herseth repays the cost of the CD. But we also get James Levine doing double duty at the harpsichord in Concerto no. 5. One deficit from the rise of period performance is that non-specialists have been driven out. The days when an all-around musician like Levine or Leonard Bernstein performed Bach and Handel are more or less over, and their replacements, to be tactful, are not on such an exalted level of talent.
The two Brandenburgs are played in a celebratory mood, not the usual sewing-machine style we've gotten used to, but they aren't "romantic" in any way that I can detect, unless using a flute in place of a recorder is romantic. Next up is the "Wedding" Cantata, recorded at the same session with a young Kathleen Battle as soprano soloist -- she was 29 at the time, and with Levine as mentor would go on to superstardom (both come from Cincinnati, by the way). The singer's voice and artistry are fully formed, and she is lucky to have Levine as such an accomplished conductor (Battle's later solo albums of Bach are not led this well). To fill out this fairly generous (68 min.) CD we get a very good Orchestral Suite no. 3 recorded by James Galway in 1991.
I hadn't noticed before that Sony BMG has quietly employed their best remastering technique (DSD and SBM) for this budget line. Just a few years ago both were touted on the cover and commanded a bit extra in cost. As it is, however, the sound here is still rather bright on top. that's the only small criticism of an otherwise delightful Bach prgoram featuring first-rate musicians all around.