Brandenburg Ensemble/Pinnock, Symphony Hall, Birmingham <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fourstar fivestar -->

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Ten nations come together in Trevor Pinnock's new European Brandenburg Ensemble. Originally dreamt up as a kind of 60th birthday present to himself, the project will occupy Pinnock and his musicians, on and off, up to his next birthday. As well as touring, they will release the six concertos next April, which should provide a fascinating comparison with his landmark 1981 recordings with the English Concert.

On the strength of this live performance, he now seems less interested in the punchy, virtuosic aspect of the music and more focused on its interior spirituality. That is not to imply any lack of technique. On the contrary, Pinnock's interpretation, devoid of any eccentricity, is matched in the unflamboyant approach of his specialist instrumentalists.

The slimline forces might have been helped in the Symphony Hall if the acoustic canopy had been lowered. Emphasis on beauty is all very well, but perhaps the spacious setting was to blame for the occasionally underwhelming sound, in the flute-playing of the Fifth and in the solo violas of the Sixth. The Second benefited from its spirited soloists, with Katharina Spreckelsen's oboe and Gabriele Cassone's trumpet especially engaging.

In the First and weightiest concerto, the horns brayed rustically in the minuet finale. The programme failed to mention that in the slow movement of the Third - where Bach left just two chords in his manuscript - Kati Debretzeni would improvise an eloquent violin solo. In the Fifth concerto, where the harpsichord is promoted to a more vivaciously energetic role, Pinnock revealed the depth of his understanding of the fantasy, poetry and sheer effervescence of Bach's masterpieces.