J.S. BACH: BRANDENBURG CONCERTOS NOS. 1-6. Akademie Fur Alte Musik. Berlin (Harmonia Mundi).
Prepare for amazement. If you, like me, have tired of hearing old, plodding modern versions of the Brandenburg Concertos aired too frequently during rush hour, the riot of contrasting sounds and colors that distinguishes these sparkling, authentic-instrument performances is sure to turn you around. Concerto No. 1 literally bursts forth from the speakers. This music is so fresh and alive, so filled with the act of creation, that it's like hearing these six works for the first time. Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) seems to have hastily assembled these concertos from earlier compositions, adapting them for the eight hand-picked musicians of his Kothen Chamber Orchestra. The Academy of Ancient Music players seem equally accomplished. No splatting horns, screechy violins, or careful little keystrokes here. Instead we are treated to mesmerizing performances that range from a presto circus of somersaulting sounds to slower, more soothing melodies. Precise rhythms, clean articulation, an utterly natural acoustic, and a stupendous variety of instrumental color make these performances special. If you think Gustav Mahler understood how to highlight the colors of different instruments and instrumental combinations, wait till you hear what Bach could do. And be sure to listen for the little galloping sounds in the middle of the first movement of the Third Concerto.