Eloquence is a new reissue label from Universal Classics; its titles come from the Decca, Philips, and Deutsche Grammophon back-catalogues. As such, all Eloquence CDs sell at a budget price. If these discs are being marketed to a new audience, then the omission of booklet notes is unfortunate. Experienced collectors wanting to take a worthwhile trip down Memory Lane won't care, however.
In the 1960s, the Italian ensemble I Musici became synonymous with tasteful and always dependable performances of music from the Baroque and early Classical eras. Their representation in the CD era has gone up and down, and it is a pleasure to see some of their recordings reappearing in this budget line. I'm not sure that reissuing their Bach is putting their best foot forward, yet I certainly enjoyed these two discs.
These Bach recordings were made for Philips in the early 1960s, and they are notable for the appearance of many famous "guest stars," including trumpeter Maurice André and oboist Heinz Holliger. The original instruments movement was still several years away from dominating the Baroque scene. These performances involve modern instruments, for the most part. Although the performances themselves don't reflect the later quests for "authentic performance practice," they follow good Baroque style, as it was known at the time. Tempos are moderate, rhythms are relaxed, and ear-pleasing tone is a priority. The embellishments never call attention to themselves. There's nothing jagged about these performances, nothing that will make one spill his or her Sunday morning coffee. I Musici and friends will be a good choice for those who want modern performances that are smooth but not smoothed-out (unlike Herbert von Karajan's, for example). Having said this, I do think I Musici is more at home with Vivaldi, Albinoni, Scarlatti, and the other Italians than they are with Bach. There's less inflection and imagination here than under conductor Raymond Leppard, who recorded another wonderful set of Brandenburg Concertos for Philips decades back (apparently no longer available on CD).
The engineering still is superb, more than 35 years after the fact. If sunny Bach is your priority, I Musici will please you greatly.
Copyright © 2004, Raymond Tuttle