John Miller
Wonderful music, wonderful playing. Treat yourself to both volumes.

I have been waiting expectantly for Häkkinen's completion of Bach's set of Six Harpsichord Concertos (BWV 1052-1057). The remaining three, Concerto III in D major, IV in A major and VI in F major are in this volume. Häkkinen again employs a one-to-a-part set of musicians from the period-instrument Helsinki Baroque Orchestra. They are following musicologist/composer Richard Maunder's intensive research which confirmed that most Baroque orchestral music was written for single part strings with a basso continuo, although extra forces could be added for special occasions. The continuo on this Volume is a cello and a positive organ, compared with the violone and chest organ used in Volume 1.

Concerto III is better known as the Concerto for Violin in E major BWV, here masterfully arrayed in new tone colours. Its opening Allegro joyfully bustles, flows and lilts, while the Adagio has soulful conversational exchanges between the harpsichord's long-breathed solo, with weeping falls tenderly produced by the strings. The pepper-and-salt tang of the harpsichord both blends with and compliments the strings delightfully, showing what amazing expertise Bach possessed as re-arranger.

Concerto IV in A is not so well-known, probably transcribed from a lost concerto for oboe d'amore or viola d'amore, perhaps with a different slow movement. This piece reflects the somewhat deeper toned original instruments, beautifully expressed by Häkkinen's harpsichord, a replica of a two manual Hass original with a 16' register. As Häkkinen tells us, it is likely that Bach had such an instrument at hand for his Collegium Musicum concerts.

Most listeners will immediately spot that Concerto VI is derived from Brandenburg Concerto IV in G. Bach retains the two recorders (here in F) and the harpsichord takes the original violin part but amplifies it into a brilliantly virtuosic keyboard display, the recorders bubbling away with their spirited tune. Häkkinen takes the opportunity to use both 16' and 8' registers on his Hass replica, adding weight and colour to the performance.

Two not insubstantial works round off this disc. Bach's flamboyant Fantasia in C minor, BWV 906 appears in an MS from the Court Library in Dresden, reflecting the composer's quite lengthy stay there, and it is a remarkable piece, pushing the harpsichord to its limits. Its dramatic opening is full of fire and could be a precursor of Chopin's Revolutionary Study, both in its downward sweeping arpeggios and gruff, turbulent exploitation of the 16' lower registers. Häkkinen's realisation of this piece is so gripping that I would have bought the disc for it alone.

Wilhelm Friedman Bach went to Leipzig University about the same time that his father became the conductor and director of the University's Collegium Musicum, and would have played in many of its concerts. He learned from his father that a solo harpsichord could play a concerto all on its own, and here is one of his efforts, the fine solo harpsichord Concerto in G, Fk 40. WFB puts forward a hefty, proud opening tune for his Allegro, a pure two-part arioso for his slow movement, deftly ornamented, with a lively and memorable vivace to end. His style is audibly moving towards the homophonic galant fashion and is less contrapuntal than his father's.

Häkkinen's engineers have rightly given us the chamber perspective required by the ensemble's small size, the harpsichord sounding inside the band (literally, as shown on a session photograph) and not in anyway spotlighted as if for a concerto of much later date. There is plenty of sound from the rear surrounds; the Finnish church ambience is clearly present but not over-reverberant, giving an intimate listening experience in 5.0. Listeners playing at "realistic" volume will hear the sound of the blower of the Positiv Organ, not present in the two solo tracks. Aeolus package the volume in a 3-gate plastic/cardboard fold-out, with a captive booklet (in English and German). Häkkinen himself provides the excellent notes, exploring on various historical aspects and informing us that he has researched extensively to find the MSS with the latest alterations in Bach's hand.

The level of communication from all players and their affection for this music is very high, and brings out the pure joy that Bach expressed when at the top of his composing talent. This 2 disc set would certainly be my choice for a period performance, enhanced by the doughty presence of the Hass replica harpsichord with a full 16' soundboard, which is rarely (or never) found in existing recordings of the concertos.

Wonderful music, wonderful playing. Treat yourself to both volumes.

Copyright © 2013 John Miller and