Dave let me copy his podcast of two concerts from the 2010 BBC Proms, the six Brandenburg Concertos conducted by Sir John Eliot Gardiner and played by the English Baroque Soloists. They’re not performed in numerical order, but in the order 1-6-4-3-5-2. I’ve listened to the first two so far (that is, to numbers 1 and 6).
The performance of number 6 is delightful, but the performance of number 1 is a standout, with very raucous horns. Easily the rowdiest horns I’ve ever heard in a recording or performance of this piece! They even make several flubs along the way (easy to do with period horns) and I don’t care much, I love them. No attempt at all to make the horns blend smoothly with the rest of the orchestra, which is exactly as I feel it should be for this piece. I couldn’t say why, but it just feels perfectly right to me this way. In an interview on the podcast, Gardiner calls them “party crashers” — yes! yes! yes!
Number 1 is my favorite of the six, and those horns are the main reason why. The very first recording I ever listened to of a performance of anything played on period instruments was a recording of the six Brandenburgs issued back in the 1980s by the Smithsonian Institution. I was in college and still finding my way around classical music. I’d heard the B’s by that time — they got played a lot on the radio (remember classical music radio stations?), and I think I must have owned a recording or two. I liked them okay. I thought of them as very smooth, suave, graceful, polite pieces.
I was buying vinyl from the Smithsonian already because they had a neat series of historical recordings of American musical. For some reason, I don’t remember why, the catalog blurb for the recording of the B’s intrigued me and I added it to an order of something else.
Well, I started with number 1, of course, and it just blew me away. There was the sheer novelty of the sound of the period instruments, first of all. But more than that, it was no longer a particularly polite piece of music. The first movement was taken at a faster tempo than I’d ever heard it, breathlessly zippy and incredibly full of joy and life. And those squonking horns cut through the texture in the most excitingly audacious way. I’d heard the piece before but I’d never heard anything the least bit like this.
I played that recording, and especially the first concerto, over and over again. That was the start of my love of period instrument performances, and a quarter of a century later I’m still at it.
I have a feeling I’m going to be listening to this performance of number 1 quite a few times, too.