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Brandenburg Concerto No 2 in F major, BWV1047


The second concerto seems to explore the utmost diversity of solo instruments but with the greatest amount of ‘agreement’ between them. The solo group might initially appear an almost irresponsible choice: trumpet, recorder, oboe and violin. Not only is this representative of each instrumental family but it would also have challenged the hierarchy of the musicians in the court Kapelle at Cöthen. For instance, the trumpeter would probably have been the most highly paid and respected musician while the recorder would usually have been played by the most lowly of court musicians (although he could also have been an oboist, and thus of higher status). Moreover, each player must continually make compromises to match the other instruments in tone, style or dynamic. Bach is quite relentless in insisting that each solo instrument play in turn the same melodic material, regardless of the techniques employed or the status of the player. For instance, both oboe and recorder have to play the ‘string crossing’ passages that first appear on the violin, the trumpet has to play the same agile melodic figuration as all the other instruments. In all, there is a sense in which all the players have to go through the same ‘eye of the needle’.

The first movement follows the ubiquitous ritornello style, in which the opening, tutti section is restated in various keys and environments, like the pillars of a building or the central point of a speech. But this skeleton is fleshed out in a highly individual way: the ‘subsidiary’ material is often central to the solo episodes and much of this returns at later junctures – so it is thus of equal importance to the ritornello theme (interestingly the final iteration of one of these passages reveals a prominent B-A-C-H pattern in the bass). In other words, Bach shows the same subtlety in the pacing out the events of the movement as he does in his ability to combine themes simultaneously; he produces a much weightier level of musical discourse than the age would normally require.

The central movement is a rare example of a quartet by Bach (virtually all his chamber music presents a trio texture) in which the melodic line is shared among the upper three instruments. Their work rather resembles a mosaic in presenting a picture that would more usually be created by much simpler means. Should the trumpeter feel peeved at being excluded from the slow movement, the final movement provides ample compensation since here the trumpet takes the lead with the fugal subject. Of all Bach’s fast movements, this one most belies the belief that the fugue is a dry, academic process; it works more like a sparkling conversation or a spirited chase in which we always expect the next entry of the subject but are somehow surprised when it arrives. Here the accompanying string parts are more or less cosmetic; while they provide some shading and emphasis, much of the time they could be omitted without major damage to the musical argument.

from notes by John Butt © 2013


Bach: Brandenburg Concertos
Studio Master: SDG707Download onlyStudio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available
Bach: The Brandenburg Concertos
CDD220012CDs Dyad (2 for the price of 1)
Bach: Piano Transcriptions, Vol. 9 - A Bach Book for Harriet Cohen


Movement 1: [Allegro]
Movement 2: Andante
29 September 1931, Cincinnati; commissioned by Harriet Cohen and first published by Oxford University Press in A Bach Book for Harriet Cohen; first performed at the Queen's Hall on 17 October 1932

Track 10 on CDA67767 [3'58]
Track 6 on CDD22001 CD1 [3'25] 2CDs Dyad (2 for the price of 1)
Track 12 on SDG707 CD1 [3'40] Download only
Movement 3: Allegro assai

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