Photo: Freiburger Barockorchester
A 2013 release Harmonia Mundi features the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra performing Bach’s concertos for one, two and three violins.
Concerto or Concerto Grosso?
In the liner note to this recording, Peter Wollny gives a wonderful summary of the concerto form in the baroque era. In particular, Wollny makes the observation that when Bach wrote concertos, he based the form on
“…motivic-thematic integration of the solo part into the ensemble and a contrapuntal elaboration that embraces all levels of the musical structure, to which even the concertante principle itself is occasionally subordinated.”
That is to say that sometimes Bach treated genres like the conventional concerto form with a certain degree of flexibility. Take for example the very well-known concerto for two violins, or the Bach “double” as it’s usually called. If we’re to put a fine point on it, the piece is really more like an orchestral concerto or a concerto grosso. The musical themes and motives are integrated so that all the contributing voices have important and more or less equal roles.
Petra Müllejans, Gottfried von der Goltz and Anne Katharina Schreiber
Especially in recordings of violin concertos, we’ve become accustomed to an orchestra collaborating with a soloist brought in for a specific project or concert …Joshua Bell plays Tchaikovsky concerto with the Berlin Philharmonic, Isaac Stern plays Brahms with the Philadelphia Orchestra, Anne Akkiko Meyers plays Vivaldi with the English Chamber Orchestra… But, the soloists with Freiburg Baroque Orchestra are permanent members of the orchestra–a situation which really suites them. The result is a tight ensemble whose energy seems to be unified all along the same plane.
Concerto for Three Violins
The only source copy of this concerto is actually a version for three harpsichords. But most people think that the surviving source is itself an arrangement of a lost violin concerto. That means that when we hear this concerto performed on violins, we might be hearing something close to what Bach originally wrote, but reconstructed from an arrangement of the original.