March/April 2009, "Fanfare" magazine, USA
J.C.BACH/Pratum Integrum. Elsewhere I review a modern-instrument Caro Mitis SACD devoted to C. P. E. Bach. This J.C. Bach disc, also from Caro Mitis, features a fine Russian period-instrument group whose name means "unmown meadow". You'd think that implication of wildness would be more appropriate to Emanuel Bach than to his younger, more conventionally galant, London-based brother, but in any event this mixed-ensemble "John Bach" program comes off splendidly.
From the l770s into the early years of the following century, the sinfonia concertante was a tremendously popular format, showcasing many different and often unexpected combinations of solo instruments. This one, from 1776, features oboe, violin, viola, and cello against an orchestra of strings plus pairs of flutes and horns. It's a delightful work, even if the central 10-minute Larghetto seems a bit overlong. The Pratum Integrum Orchestra (from which the soloists are drawn) gives a perky, sparkling performance. One caveat: in the slow movement, the viola and cello sometimes sound slightly out of tune, a side effect of non-vibrato playing on low-range gut-string instruments.
The two chamber works here have similarly unconventional scoring. The op. 2 Quartet assembles violin, two cellos, and keyboard (here, fortepiano). It's somewhat Italianate, with flowing melodies over busy accompaniment; the strings play with spirit, and the fortepiano weaves expertly in and out of the texture. The very attractive op. 3 Sextet calls for oboe (first among equals in the outer movements), two horns (which sit out the gracious slow movement), violin, cello, and fortepiano.
A G-Minor Sinfonia from the composer's op. 6 collection closes the disc, and very effectively at that, with its stormy final movement. The chamber orchestra plays this with a great sense of fun.
The recorded sound, via the Polyhymnia team behind PentaTone, is remarkably realistic; the instruments are heard from the middle of a rather small but reverberant space in a manner that flatters their tone while maintaining musical clarity. If you have any sympathy for the style of music (and the specific composer) that influenced the young Mozart, You'll want this disc.