Bach / Britten Conducts Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos

More of the music of J.S. Bach (1685-1750)

Hot Stamper Decca and London Pressings Available Now

xxxxx

  • A MONSTER Double Album that simply could not be beat — all four sides earned our highest sonic grade of Triple Plus (A+++) and play about as quietly as any pressings from this era (late-’60s) ever do
  • There are only two complete Brandenburgs that we like for music and sound, the Munchinger on Decca/London from 1959 and this one
  • When you have enough of both for a shootout, and can play them side by side, you hear the differences between 1959 and 1969, but choosing one over the other when they can both be so good is a lot harder than it sounds
  • I much prefer Britten’s excellent conducting to his rather tiresome composing — most of his classical and orchestral works seem uninspired and academic
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Benjamin Britten’s interpretations of the Brandenburgs occupy a middle ground between extremes, and these tasteful performances should satisfy all but the most partisan advocates of one performance practice over the other. Informed by the musicological discoveries of the 1960s in terms of rhythmic nuances and appropriate ornamentation, Britten’s performances are rich with Baroque inflections without sounding unnaturally contrived.

This vintage London pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records can barely BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to “see” the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in the studio with the band, this is the record for you. It’s what vintage all analog recordings are known for — this sound.

If you exclusively play modern repressings of vintage recordings, I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it — not often, and certainly not always — but maybe one out of a hundred new records do, and those are some pretty long odds.

What the Best Sides of Britten Conducts Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos Have to Offer Is Not Hard to Hear

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1969
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.

Copies with rich lower mids and nice extension up top did the best in our shootout, assuming they weren’t veiled or smeary of course. So many things can go wrong on a record! We know, we’ve heard them all.

Top end extension is critical to the sound of the best copies. Lots of old records (and new ones) have no real top end; consequently, the studio or stage will be missing much of its natural air and space, and instruments will lack their full complement of harmonic information.

Tube smear is common to most vintage pressings and this is no exception. The copies that tend to do the best in a shootout will have the least (or none), yet are full-bodied, tubey and rich.

What We’re Listening For on Britten Conducts Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
  • Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness so common to these LPs.
  • Tight punchy bass — which ties in with good transient information, also the issue of frequency extension further down.
  • Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the instruments.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Brandenburg Concerto No. 1

Side Two

Brandenburg Concerto No. 2

Side Three

Brandenburg Concerto No. 4
Brandenburg Concerto No. 5

Side Four

Brandenburg Concerto No. 5
Brandenburg Concerto No. 6

AMG 4 1/2 Star Review

Considering the vast array of recordings available of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos — ranging from modernized performances by large ensembles to historical re-creations on original instruments in smaller numbers — some listeners may seek a good compromise that simply does justice to the music without fussing about authenticity. Benjamin Britten’s interpretations of the Brandenburgs occupy a middle ground between extremes, and these tasteful performances should satisfy all but the most partisan advocates of one performance practice over the other. Informed by the musicological discoveries of the 1960s in terms of rhythmic nuances and appropriate ornamentation, Britten’s performances are rich with Baroque inflections without sounding unnaturally contrived.

The scaled-down English Chamber Orchestra is lean, but the ensemble plays with all the warmth and resonance its modern instruments afford and avoids the pitfalls of experimenting with untried and temperamental Baroque instruments, all too common and painful in early music efforts of the time.

Leave a Reply