Bach: Air - The Bach Album (CD review)

Includes Air, Violin Concertos Nos. 1 and 2, Largo, Double Concerto, Ave Maria. Anne Akiko Meyers, violin; Steven Mercurio, English Chamber Orchestra. eOne Music EOM-CD-7785.

American concert violinist, chamber musician, and recording artist Anne Akiko Meyers "wanted to include some of her favorite Bach pieces on the disc," including the famous "Air" from the Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D major, BWV 1068 with which she begins the album. The album offers an outstanding showcase for her talents and is one of the highlights of a discography that includes over two dozen recordings.

Ms. Meyers performs the "Air" in an arrangement by Jeff Kryka, her playing with the English Chamber Orchestra under Steven Mercurio easygoing and soulful, making a pleasant introduction to the music to come. The violin is especially rich and sonorous while being clean and clear, too, another trademark of the performer.

Next come the two violin concertos, No. 1 in A minor, BWV 1041 and No. 2 in E major, BWV 1042, which Bach wrote somewhere between 1717 and 1723, around the same time he was also writing the Brandenburg Concertos if you hear any similarities. Here, Ms. Meyers continues her expressive style, taking her time with the music yet eliciting much vitality from the scores. The most-direct comparison I can make is with Hilary Hahn, another gifted violinist, and the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra on DG. One would have to say it's almost a toss-up, Ms. Hahn being a little quicker, zippier, in the outer movements, and Ms. Meyers perhaps a touch more comfortable and more compassionate. If I have a slight bias toward Ms. Hahn, it's probably because I've lived with her recordings longer. However, if you factor in the clarity and accuracy of the recorded sound for Ms. Meyers, it might sway the decision in her favor. In both cases, the accompanying ensembles provide solid, unobtrusive support.

As a break between the violin concertos, we get the little Largo from the Concerto for Harpsichord in F minor, BWV 1056, transcribed for violin. It is, as we might expect, completely lovely.

Then we come to the centerpiece of the program, the Concerto for 2 violins, strings and continuo in D minor, BWV 1043, in which Ms. Meyers plays both parts. I mean, why not, when you own two Strads, a 1697 "ex-Monitor/Napoleon" and a 1730 "Royal Spanish." As each instrument sounds different from the other, it's an ideal combination. Here, I actually did have a preference for Ms. Meyers over Ms. Hahn and her colleague for Meyers's more relaxed, flowing, lyrical, yet vital approach.

The album ends with the Bach/Gounod Ave Maria, again arranged by Jeff Kyrka. It makes an appropriately gorgeous ending for a wholly delightful Bach presentation.

eOne Music recorded the performances at LSO St. Lukes, London, England, and the Performing Arts Center, Purchase, New York, in May and September of 2011. The sound is consistently smooth and natural, a bit darker and fuller in the Double Concerto, Ms. Meyers well out in front of the rest of the ensemble. I would have favored a more neutral balance, but at least you can't mistake who the soloist is. Although the acoustic is slightly warm, midrange transparency is excellent, making the music come to life in a most-realistic manner. It's quite a beautiful sound, really, to complement the beauty of the performances.

Finally, I hate to be petty in criticizing anything so minor about the album, but there is the matter of the packaging. Beyond providing some attractive pictures of Ms. Meyers, it provides little else. The booklet notes never touch upon the two violin concertos at all, and only on the back of the jewel case do we get any information on the disc's contents, and that so small it's hardly legible, with no track timings whatsoever. Nor does calling it simply The Bach Album on the case's spine help one to identify what's inside. Ah, well, minor quibbles, as I say.


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