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GRAMOPHONE (07/2022)
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Reviewer :
Lindsay Kemp

Following in Bach’s footsteps is never straightforward – few of the locations associated with him are quite what they seem. But go to the right places in the right frame of mind and you can still get a rush of intimacy, a brush with his ghost. Václav Luks finds this the case at Köthen Castle, where Bach was employed from 1717 to 1723 and the Brandenburg Concertos were probably first performed. ‘You become acutely aware of this remarkable place just by crossing the bridge and walking through the gate into the castle courtyard’, he says. ‘You go up the same stairs that Bach climbed. That in itself is a very profound experience.’ Mind you, this is in part-qualification of the fact that the handsome setting for this film of his ensemble performing all six concertos is not as it was in Bach’s day. Originally the Throne Room, it is probably the right place, but was redesigned in the early 19th century to become a neoclassical confection now known as the Hall of Mirrors. But hey, I’ve been to enough Bach sites myself to recognise the thrill.


The mainly Czech Collegium 1704 are a lively bunch, and give boisterously enjoyable and celebratory performances of these familiar masterpieces. In the second movement of No 3 and finale of No 4 they let loose torrents of uncomplicated joy, and there is an exquisite refined stillness in the slow movement of No 5. If the finish of an audio-only studio recording is not quite there – the trumpet-playing in No 2 is a rather glassy ride – that adds to the realism, I suppose. Likewise a slightly over-resonant recording (is it all those mirrors?) prevents this being a top choice for audio, yet seems a convincing match for its environment.


The filming is conventional – multiple static cameras and one on a track – and although there are some brief internal and external shots of the building, there are no commentaries, interviews or mini-docs. A rival film exists in the same location by the always excellent Freiburg Baroque Orchestra, in which not only is the room in the scruffier state it was in before its 2011 renovation but the players (as David Vickers noted in his review, 8/06) are unremittingly serious of countenance. Not so here, where all is spick and span, and convivial smiles abound.

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