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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685 - 1750): Music with recorder

[I] "in stile italiano - Bach, Marcello & Bigaglia"
Stefano Bagliano, recordera, Christian Brembeck, harpsichordb
rec: Oct 21 - 23, 2010, Gersheim-Medelsheim, Kirche St. Martin (Chorkapelle)
musicaphon - M 56864 (© 2011) (63'26")
Liner-notes: E/D/I
Cover & track-list

Johann Sebastian BACH: Aria variata alla maniera italiana for harpsichord in a minor (BWV 989)b; Sonata for harpsichord and recorder in F (after Sonata for harpsichord and transverse flute in E flat, BWV 1031)ab; Sonata for harpsichord and recorder in a minor (after Sonata for harpsichord and transverse flute/violin in g minor, BWV 1020)ab; Sonata for organ in d minor (BWV 527), arr for harpsichord and recorderab; Diogenio BIGAGLIA (c1676-1745): Sonata for recorder and bc in a minora; Benedetto MARCELLO (1686-1739): Sonata for recorder and bc in d minor, op. 2,2a

Sources: [1] Benedetto Marcello, Suonate a flauto solo con il suo basso continuo, op. 2, 1712; [2] Domenico Bigaglia, XII sonate, op. 1, c1722

[II] "French & English Suites"
Stefan Temmingh, recorderc; Domen Marincic, viola da gambad; Axel Wolf, lutee
rec: Jan 17 - 20, 2011, Starnberg, Malteserstift St. Josef
Oehms - OC 795 (© 2011) (73'53")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover & track-list

English Suite for harpsichord in a minor (BWV 1017), arr for recorder, viola da gamba and lutecde; French suite for harpsichord in b minor (BWV 814), arr for recorder, viola da gamba and lutecde; French Suite for harpsichord in G (BWV 816), arr for recorder, viola da gamba and lute in Ccde; Fugue for lute in g minor (BWV 1000)e; Pedal-Exercitium for viola da gamba in a minor (after BWV 598 for organ in g minor)d; Prelude for lute in D (BWV 1006a)e; Sonata for harpsichord and violin in a minor (BWV 1017) (siciliano, arr for recorder, viola da gamba and lute)cde; Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme for organ (BWV 645), arr for recorder, viola da gamba and lutecde

There are very few musicians who don't like to play Bach. Unfortunately he hasn't given everyone of them something to play. The recorder appears in two of the Brandenburg Concertos and in some vocal works, but there are no solo concertos or sonatas for recorder. As a result the catalogue of Bach recordings includes several discs with music arranged for recorder. The two discs which are the subject of this review are two further specimens of such recordings. They are different in respect to the kind of music which is arranged.

The disc by Stefano Bagliano and Christian Brembeck is the most 'conventional', as it were. It includes one of Bach's trio sonatas for organ which invite performers to arrange them for one or two melody instruments and basso continuo. Performances with recorder are quite obvious, in particular as the recorder is close in character to the organ. A performance with harpsichord is certainly a possibility, but the balance between the two instruments often causes problems, as I have mentioned in my review of the recording of the six trio sonatas by Reine-Marie Verhagen and Tini Mathot. The recorder is too much the soloists here, with the harpsichord reduced to accompaniment. But in his trio sonatas Bach treats the three parts as equals. The same goes for the other two sonatas, both originally for keyboard and a treble instrument. In the case of the Sonata in E flat (BWV 1031) - here transposed to F - that is the transverse flute, whereas the Sonata in a minor (BWV 1020) - sometimes attributed to Bach's son Carl Philipp Emanuel - was originally scored for transverse flute or violin.

That doesn't take anything away from the achievements of the two artists which give fine performances. The generous addition of ornamentation is questionable, though. That is much more appropriate in the two Italian sonatas by Diogenio Bigaglia and Benedetto Marcello. These are the most satisfying parts of this disc. Only the use of the buff stop of the harpsichord in the second movement of the Sonata in a minor by Bigaglia is questionable, considering that Italian harpsichords didn't have one. The Aria variata alla maniera italiana (BWV 989) is one of Bach's lesser-known harpsichord works, and its inclusion in the programme is a nice bonus. It is well played by Christian Brembeck.

Despite my critical remarks this is an enjoyable disc. It would have been even more so had the acoustic been more intimate.

The choice of repertoire on the second disc is far less conventional. The core of the programme are the three suites for harpsichord which Stefan Temmingh has arranged for recorder, viola da gamba and lute. In his liner-notes he extensively defends the practice of arranging works for a different scoring. From a historical point of view there is not much against it, as long as the intentions of the composer are not violated. Whether an arrangement really works is a matter of taste, I suppose. I was surprised to see that Temmingh had taken three harpsichord suites, but I was ready to welcome these arrangements as an interesting addition of the repertoire. But I am not really convinced that they are. It is again the balance which I find unsatisfying. It is the recorder - and sometimes the viola da gamba - which dominate, and that goes against the character of these suites. The lute is strongly underexposed in these performances, whether that is due to the playing of the artists or the recording I can't tell. In some movements the recorder or the viola da gamba are silent, for instance in the loure from the French Suite No. 5 (BWV 816). Really odd is the menuet and trio from the French Suite No. 3: the menuet is played by recorder and lute, the trio by viola da gamba and lute. These differences in the scoring damage the unity of these suites. Some movements come off better than others, but in general I am disappointed about these arrangements.

The disc opens with a movement from the Sonata in c minor (BWV 1017, originally for harpsichord and violin. Whereas in the original the two instruments are of equal standing, here the recorder dominates, which is even emphasized by the viola da gamba playing pizzicato. The rather curious Pedal-Exercitium (BWV 598) is performed here as a solo for the viola da gamba, and that seems an interesting option. The performance of Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme (BWV 645), one of the Schübler-Choräle, is also done quite well. The two pieces for lute solo are given fine performances by Axel Wolf.

All in all, this disc fails to convince me that arranging Bach's harpsichord suites is a viable option to extending the recorder repertoire.

Johan van Veen (© 2012)

Relevant links:

Christian Brembeck
Stefan Temmingh

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