Last November I reported that the first stage of the Voices of Music Great Works Project will involve video and audio recordings of two of Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Brandenburg” concertos. This is an admirable exercise in distance learning supporting the building of an audience base for historically-informed performances of music from the Baroque and earlier periods. The “subject matter” for that first stage was the second (Andante) movement of the BWV 1049 (fourth) concerto. The focus of the educational objective was the demonstration of the use of “Fiauti d’Echo” (echo flutes), using the conjunction of video and program notes to demonstrate what an echo flute is, why it was required, and how it is performed.
The second release in this series was uploaded to the Voices of Music YouTube channel on New Year’s Day, ringing in the New Year with the first movement of the BWV 1048 (third) concerto. This is one of the two “Brandenburg” concertos composed only for strings; and this performance followed the assumption that each of the nine parts (excluding the continuo) was intended for a solo performer. As a result, the performing resources involve three violinists (Carla Moore, Maxine Nemerovski, and Gabrielle Wunsch), three violists (Katherine Kyme, Maria Caswell, and Lisa Grodin), and three cellists (Tanya Tomkins, Elisabeth Reed, and William Skeen), along with a continuo consisting of Farley Pearce on violone and Hanneke van Proosdij on a double manual harpsichord also serving as leader of the ensemble.
These musicians were distributed across the stage, basically in the order in which they were listed, from left to right (except for the front-and-center position of the harpsichord and the violone located behind the cellos). Much of the compositional logic of this movement involves motifs that are passed from one instrument (or instrument group) to another, working their way from the upper to the lower register. This disposition of the performers thus provides a spatial dimension (reinforced by stereo audio recording), which augments the auditory experience. On the video side, producer David Tayler and his crew (Lloyd Hryciw, Hiro Matsuo, Sheila Newbery, and Proosdij) showed a preference for shots of the entire group or portions of that group, rather than trying to track the rapid movement of the theme from one instrument to another. Too much of that “busy work” would have distracted from attention to listening; and it was definitely the right call on Tayler’s part.
It is also worth reporting that the project may have changed its name. In the closing credits it is referred to as the “Voices of Music Worldwide Education Initiative.” This nomenclature does not appear in the accompanying program notes, nor does “Great Works Project.” The name may have been changed because “great works project” brings up a variety of hits on Google that have nothing to do with music!
What matters most, however, is the music. This is a vigorous interpretation of a score for which there is no tempo marking. The allegro approach captures the high energy of the “activity of exchange” but is paced in such a way that all of the details of that exchange can be heard clearly. My personal reaction was that one can appreciate more of what Bach had in mind by watching this video than by trying to follow all the details in the printed score, thus encouraging us all to be better listeners, rather than better score-followers!