February 2005

Bach - Solo and Double Violin Concertos (Violin Concertos in A Minor and E; Double Violin Concertos in D Minor). Andrew Manze and Rachel Podger, violin; The Academy of Ancient Music; Andrew Manze, director
Harmonia Mundi HMU 807155
Format: Hybrid Multichannel SACD

Musical Performance ****1/2
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****

Vivaldi - Concertos for the Emperor Charles VI
The English Concert; Andrew Manze, solo violin & director
Harmonia Mundi HMU 807332
Format: Hybrid Multichannel SACD

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ***1/2
Overall Enjoyment ***1/2

by Rad Bennett

Violinist Andrew Manze is one of today’s hottest tickets in classical music. A student of veteran Baroque soloist Simon Standage, Manze was associate music director of The Academy of Ancient Music from 1996-2003, then became artistic director of The English Concert, becoming Trevor Pinnock’s successor. He also writes, teaches and has published new cadenzas for Mozart’s violin concertos.

Energy, elegance, and a certain devil-may-care attitude that in other hands would spell disaster characterize his performances. In a rapid passage, for instance, Manze will take himself right to the brink but never fall over the precipice. His playing is daring and breathtaking, but -- and this is important -- always musical. One does not have the feeling that he is using his virtuoso style in a self-serving manner, but in order to make the music more vital and alive. The slower movements here are pure poetry in music.

His vivacious approach works so well in the Bach concertos that I am going to say that these are the best performances I have heard of these works. Every tempo seems correct, and every passage perfectly phrased. He plays the far-less-interesting Vivaldi works with the same assurance and style.

Both recordings are good. The Bach has more presence and is immediate and resonant, with a rich and robust sound. The Vivaldi sounds leaner and a little more distant, with less bass, though it is quite satisfactory. The surround balance is ideal in each. I would start with the Bach to hear what Manze can do with masterpieces, then try the Vivaldi to see how he can make lesser music sound better than it is. He is a musical force to be reckoned with.