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MUSIC REVIEW : Complete ‘Brandenburgs’ by Collegium

Could the Brandenburg Collegium, a period-instrument ensemble directed by harpsichordist Anthony Newman, learn something about tempo from the great German conductor Otto Klemperer?

It is said that there was no such thing as a Klemperer tempo (though they often seemed to be slow), but that he chose a tempo to fit the circumstances--his players, the hall--and to allow the music to be articulated cleanly and breathe.

In performing the six “Brandenburg” Concertos by Bach, Monday night at Segerstrom Hall in Costa Mesa, Newman and his Collegium too often sounded as if they had a tempo to prove, not to make work. In the large acoustical framework, their rapid allegros rendered musical lines murky, and the pulse often failed to jell.

There were other problems too. The New York-based ensemble, 13-strong at its biggest Monday, listed several familiar names (to those in the know) as members, players from our own local music ensembles, or as the official spin coming back through a spokesperson had it, “area specialists invited to join the group.” In other words, this was part Collegium, part pickup band, and, frankly, it sounded like it. Too bad for the uninformed public.

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All evening, things sounded not quite. Although the performances were basically neat and not without finesse, the gleam of true virtuosity made rare appearances. These run-throughs became mundane.

What’s more, probably in an effort to combat the size of the hall, Newman decided to use amplification, discreetly handled mostly, but not always. In the Fifth “Brandenburg,” for instance, the harpsichord might have been the inauthentic tank favored by Wanda Landowska. And there was something rich about the sight of period-instrument violinists and violists, who wouldn’t be caught dead with modern (and louder) steel strings on their instruments, standing right up to a microphone and having their sound piped through the PA system.


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