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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685 - 1750): "Sonatas & Chorales"

Palladian Ensemble

rec: October 23 - 25, 2005, York, National Centre for Early Music
Linn Records - CKD 275 ( 2006) (58'27")

Das alte Jahr vergangen ist (BWV 614); Kommst du nun, Jesu, vom Himmel herunter (BWV 650); Sonata in e minor (after Sonata No. 2 in c minor, BWV 526); Sonata for violin and bc in G (BWV 1021); Sonata in G (BWV 1039); Sonata in g minor (after Sonata No. 4 in e minor, BWV 528); Trio super Allein Gott in der Hh sei Her (BWV 664); Trio super Herr Jesu Christ, dich zu uns wend (BWV 655); Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme (BWV 645)

Pamela Thorby, recorder; Rodolfo Richter, violin; Susanne Heinrich, viola da gamba; William Carter, archlute, guitar

This disc focuses on the trio sonata in Bach's oeuvre, but only one piece is performed in its presently known form, the Sonata for violin and bc in G (BWV 1021). One may ask why this piece is included, but in the booklet William Yeoman writes that "its texture is quite clearly that of a trio sonata". So most of the pieces on this disc are arrangements of some sort, and as Bach himself quite often reworked his compositions there is no objective against making and performing such arrangements. What is decisive is whether the result is convincing and whether the arrangement does justice to the character of the original.

The basic idea behind the form of the trio sonata is the collaboration and competition of two equal upper voices over a basso continuo. In his book Versuch einer Anweisung die Flte traversiere zu spielen Johann Joachim Quantz writes that in a trio "one scarcely can guess which of the two voices is the first". But here the balance between the two upper voices is a returning problem. The disc starts with a trio sonata, the Sonata in G (BWV 1039), which was originally written for two flutes. Here the recorder is no match for the violin, in particular in its lower range. In the two other trio sonatas (BWV 526 and 528) the balance is better, mainly because of the higher tessitura of the part which the recorder has to play. These works were written for the organ and intended as study material for Bach's eldest son Wilhelm Friedemann. But as it seems they are partly reworkings of older material for melody instruments there is nothing against going into the opposite direction. In general they work rather well, although I prefer another instrument instead of the recorder. One has to consider that Bach in his chamber music at least what has been left of it never has written anything for the recorder.

The performance of the chorale arrangements isn't always satisfying either. Some of them are reworkings of existing material, for example from his cantatas. And again, going into the opposite direction could be interesting. Some of Bach's organ works have the texture of a trio, as even the titles indicate. The difference between the organ and this ensemble is that on the organ one can choose the stops in such a way that all parts are clearly audible. But in Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme the chorale melody is played on the recorder, and this way it is too much hidden in the polyphonic web Bach has created. Where a treble recorder is used, like in the Trio super Allein Gott in der Hh sei Ehr this is much better.

On the whole the playing of the Palladian Ensemble is alright, although I find the lack of a keyboard instrument in the basso continuo unsatisfying. The combination of viola da gamba and archlute is too little to drive the upper voices on. Sometimes the tempo is debatable. I think the middle movement from the Sonata in g minor (after BWV 528) is too slow: it is played here like an adagio rather than an andante. The performance of the vivace from the Sonata in G (BWV 1021) is pretty tame. Another point which striked me is that the violin doesn't sound as brilliant as it could be, which is probably a matter of recording technique.

To sum up: the concept of this disc is quite interesting, but its realisation is less than ideal and doesn't always justice to the character of Bach's compositions.

Johan van Veen ( 2009)

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