This is an easy (and somewhat startling) comparison. Big symphony orchestras have largely abandoned music of the Baroque as the Early Music movement of the late 20th Century pared down the forces used to perform it in an attempt to more accurately reflect the way the music would have been heard when it was composed. We’re now accustomed to the lighter, more transparent textures of this era. But there are still big differences in approach to this music, as you will hear in the excerpts below.
Here are four versions of the first movement of Bach’s Brandeburg Concerto No.3. The first three are by Early Music specialists, though the performances are separated by decades and reflect changing thinking about this music. The fourth is by the Berlin Philharmonic, led by Herbert von Karajan. Note the different tempos. Also the difference in clarity and transparency. There’s also something different about the pacing that’s different. Try a simple experiment – try moving your arms to these excerpts. Is the way you’re moving different from one to the other. Exaggerate the movement and figure out what your body is telling you about these performances. How is the energy different? How about three words to describe each performance. Be as specific as you can be.
The Full Set