musica Dei donum

CD reviews

Johann Sebastian Bach arranged

[I] "Trio Sonatas"
Mario Folena, flauto d'amorea, transverse fluteb; Roberto Loreggian, harpsichord
rec: May 13 - 14, 2013, Carceri, Abbazia (Sala del Refettorio)
Brilliant Classics - 94406 (© 2014) (63'26")
Liner-notes: E
Cover & track-list

Sonata No. 1 in E flat (BWV 525)a; Sonata No. 2 in c minor (BWV 526)a; Sonata No. 3 in d minor (BWV 527)b; Sonata No. 4 in e minor (BWV 528)a; Sonata No. 5 in C (BWV 529)b (transp. to D); Sonata No. 6 in G (BWV 530)b

[II] "Six Trio Sonatas"
Tempesta di Mare Chamber Players
rec: August 26 - 29, 2013, Philadelphia, Penn., Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill
Chandos - CHAN 0803 (© 2014) (73'03")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Scores Trio sonatas

Sonata No. 1 in E flat (BWV 525)ceik (transp. to B flat); Sonata No. 2 in c minor (BWV 526)efij (transp. to d minor); Sonata No. 3 in d minor (BWV 527)dhjk (transp. to e minor); Sonata No. 4 in e minor (BWV 528)jk (transp. to d minor); Sonata No. 5 in C (BWV 529)cegjk (transp. to F); Sonata No. 6 in G (BWV 530)cefijk

Gwyn Roberts, recorderc, transverse fluted; Emlyn Ngai, violine; Karina Schmitz, violinf, violag; Lisa Terry, viola da gambah, celloi; Richard Stone, lutej; Adam Pearl, harpsichordk

[III] "Bach remixed: J.S. Bach - Six 'New' Sonatas for recorder & basso continuo"
Michael Form, recorder; Dirk Börner, harpsichord
rec: Nov 2012, Vorarlberg (A), Propstei St. Gerold
Pan Classics - PC 10299 (© 2013) (74'26")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover & track-list

Overture in d minor (after BWV 1011,1003,814,827,Anh 17); Partita in c minor (after BWV 997); Solo in C (after BWV 1033); Sonata in G (after BWV 1005,1021,590,998); Sonata in g minor (after BWV 198,1024,508,35); Suite in A (BWV 817,815,1010,819,809,817)

The three discs to be reviewed here have one thing in common: they include music which does not exist. That is to say: it is performed in other scorings than intended by the composer. The first two focus on repertoire which is quite familiar: the six trio sonatas BWV 525 to 530 are some of Bach's most famous and most technically challenging organ works. The repertoire of the third disc has been 'invented', as it were, by the performers as its subtitle indicates: "Six 'New' Sonatas for recorder & basso continuo".

The six trio sonatas are frequently played and recorded by organists. But they also attract the attention of many instrumental ensembles. That is understandable as their texture is not fundamentally different from that of the instrumental trio sonata which was one of the main genres of the baroque era. They have been closely intertwined right from the start. They were compiled by Bach as part of the musical education of his eldest son, Wilhelm Friedemann. It is quite possible that parts of the organ sonatas are arrangements of pieces previously composed for a combination of other instruments. At least one case is identified: the first movement of the Sonata No. 4 was originally scored for oboe d'amore, viola da gamba and bc, and included as the sinfonia to the second part in the cantata Die Himmel erzählen die Ehre Gottes (BWV 76). This could be used as a justification for an arrangement of the trio sonatas for other instruments. One could even refer to Bach's own practice: the slow movement from the Triple Concerto in a minor (BWV 1044) is an arrangement of the adagio e dolce from the Sonata No. 3.

The catalogue includes quite a number of recordings of these trio sonatas in performances with other instruments than the organ. Some performers confine themselves to allocating the three parts to different instruments. In such cases one of the upper parts is played on a melody instrument - often the recorder - with the harpsichord (or organ) taking the second upper part and the bass. Mario Folena and Roberto Loreggian follow this concept. They play the sonatas in the original keys (except the Sonata No. 5), and Folena uses two instruments: a flauto d'amore and a transverse flute. The former instrument has an interchangeable central part that allows it to play a minor or major third below the usual transverse flute. I am not aware of other recordings with this combination of instruments in this repertoire; in any case it is the first time I have heard it.

The Tempesta di Mare Chamber Players have chosen a different approach. Their performances have much more of real arrangements. Five of the six trio sonatas have been transposed, and some sonatas are played in a rather uncommon line-up. In the Sonata No. 3 the two upper parts are played by transverse flute and viola da gamba, the latter playing an octave lower. The Sonata No. 4 is performed by the most unusual combination of instruments: a lute and a harpsichord. The latter has an obbligato role, just like in the recording by Folena and Loreggian. In the Sonata No. 5 the upper parts are played by an alto recorder and a violin, but a viola part has been added. According to Steven Zohn in his liner-notes it has largely an accompanimental character in the first two movements, but "its more contrapuntally active role in the finale turns a three-voice fugue into one in four voices". In the outer movements of the Sonata No. 6 "the two original treble lines are split among recorder and two violins, the 'extra' violin part allowing for a sharpening of the distinction between solo and tutti already present". Zohn refers here to what he calls "the orchestral style" of the 5th and 6th sonatas.

One of the features of these sonatas is that in general the three voices are treated on equal terms. That doesn't really come off in scorings with a keyboard - especially the harpsichord - and recorder. The latter produces a quite penetrating sound and tends to dominate. Theoretically a combination of transverse flute and harpsichord should lead to a better balance, but that is hardly the case in the recording by Folena and Loreggian where the flute is too dominant. It is a largely unsatisfying performance anyway. The tempi are mostly pretty fast. The slow movements tend to be too fast: the adagio from the Sonata No. 1 is taken as an andante and the performers don't take enough time in the adagio e dolce from the Sonata No. 3. I have less problems with the tempi in the fast movements, but don't like the way they are played here. They sound rushed, because there are too few breathing spaces between phrases and there are hardly any dynamic accents in the flute part. As a result the music doesn't really breathe. It results in a one-sided virtuosic performance without real expression, not even in the slow movements.

The Tempesta di Mare Chamber Players make a generally better impression: their performances are rhetorical and full of gestures, and there is plenty of expression. However, that doesn't mean that I am fully convinced by this approach. The use of a sixth flute in the Sonata No. 6 leads to an unsatisfying balance within the ensemble as the flute is far too dominant. The balance is much better in the Sonata No. 1 and the Sonata No. 5 as the alto recorder is more restrained and more an integral part of the ensemble. It may be true that Bach was a champion of the scoring for an obbligato keyboard and a melody instrument as Steven Zohn argues, the combination of lute and harpsichord in the Sonata No. 4 is not entirely satisfying, especially because the difference in volume between the two instruments. Whereas the other combinations were quite common, this definitely was not.

As far as the six trio sonatas are concerned, it is my experience that performances with a combination of two more or less equal instruments - transverse flute and violin or two violins - works best by far. Even so the Tempesta di Mare Chamber Players have produced an interesting alternative to what is already on the market, and their interpretations certainly deserve the interest of Bach lovers. The disc by Mario Folena and Roberto Loreggian could also have been a noteworthy alternative but the performances are largely disappointing.

Let's turn to the third disc. It is based on the idea of "what if", as Michael Form writes in his liner-notes. He refers to the beauty of the recorder parts in Bach's cantatas and the Brandenburg Concertos. "Any suggestion of the recorder being a limited and amateur instrument can instantly be forgotten". The programme is based on the assumption that some of Bach's lost compositions may have been scored for the recorder. Form believes that this is "a highly probable supposition as Bach only began composing for the traverse flute [sic] after 1720, before that he exclusively used its older sister - the recorder."

Two compositions have been arranged complete: the Partita in c minor is generally considered a work for lute; the performers have taken the harpsichord version from the pen of Johann Philipp Kirnberger as their starting point. The second is the Sonata in C (BWV 1033) for transverse flute and bc. Its authenticity is questioned, and it has not been included in the Neue Bach-Ausgabe. Form refers to Bach scholar Robert L. Marshall who believes that the flute part may be from Bach's pen. "It's probably Bach's first attempt at a solo for unaccompanied flute, which later culminated in the 'Partita in A major' BWV 1013'" (Form). (The correct key is a minor).

"The remaining four sonatas combine movements from various genres in a totally new context, creating charming links between motifs, some accidental, some intended". Individual movements are taken from harpsichord works (partitas from Clavier-Übung I, French and English suites), pieces for violin and for cello solo, other chamber music works and even cantatas. Some arrangements lead to a more satisfying results than others, but there is no fundamental objection against this procedure. Recorder aficionados will love this disc, especially as the performances are outstanding. Those who have no special liking of the recorder will probably feel less attracted to this disc.

Johan van Veen (© 2015)

Relevant links:

Roberto Loreggian
Tempesta di Mare Philadelphia Baroque Orchestra and Chamber Players

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