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GRAMOPHONE ( 12 / 2018)
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Reviewer: Lindsay Kemp

Anyone miffed that Zefiro’s recent Bach Orchestral Suites (4/17) didn’t contain the famous B minor work for flute and strings will doubtless be even more irritated to find that now that it has arrived, it has come coupled with all the Brandenburg Concertos. Well all right, perhaps they won’t. In fact, they ought to be delighted that Alfredo Bernardini’s ebullient ensemble has so quickly followed that well-thought-of release with similarly joyous recordings of these great masterpieces of Baroque orchestral music. What makes them so joyous is the sense that the players have come together in music they surely know backwards and emerged with a thoroughly spontaneous-sounding expression of their own personalities and collective enjoyment. Bernardini is in charge, of course, and presumably lies behind many of the interpretative decisions concerning tempos, balance and the timing of important moments. Yet none of these is the attention-grabbing sort designed to advertise his presence. Some movements (mainly in Concertos Nos 1 and 2) may seem a little fast, though hardly as quick as certain rivals; and others may seem a little slow, but again not much. Most impressive is how Bernardini shapes paragraphs with intensifying crescendos, draws lines out of the contrapuntal dialogues that are not always heard (helped here by a clear and present recording), finds a different but always convincing way to end each movement, or surprises and delights at corners such as at 2'44" in the first movement of No 5, when he slows the music momentarily to set up a change of atmosphere as it slips into F sharp minor.

He has much to say, then, and clearly inspires much energy in his players. The abiding impression, however, is that his talented soloists have been allowed to find their own answers and truly express themselves as individuals. It shows itself in the relish with which Cecilia Bernardini tugs expansively at the tempo and boldly spreads the violin chords in the outer movements of No 4, how the violas poke at each other in the canonic first movement of No 6, the freedom (but also good taste) with which so many of the players ornament their lines, or perhaps best of all how Francesco Corti turns the mad harpsichord solo of No 5 from knitting-machine music into something flexible and human, and then charmingly allows the exuberance to spill over into his continuo-playing in the next ritornello. Such delights as these are also to be encountered in the Orchestral Suite, which benefits from firm playing by flute soloist Marcello Gatti and some well-chosen tempos, including a not-too-slow Rondeaux and a not-too-fast Badinerie.

It has to be said that the sheer enthusiasm of the playing on this disc leads at times to a bit of murky ensemble and maybe a little coarseness of sound, but really it is all too much fun to be worrying about that.

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