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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685 - 1750): "Bach for Two - Transcriptions and Originals for Viola da gamba and Organ"

Romina Lischka, viola da gamba; Marnix De Cat, organ

rec: May 2019, Kettenis (B), St. Katharinakirche
Ramée - RAM 2005 (© 2021) (76'29")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover, track-list & booklet

Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr (BWV 662); Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr (BWV 663); Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr (BWV 711); Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ (BWV 639); Sonata for organ No. 4 in e minor (BWV 528); Sonata for organ No. 5 in C (BWV 529); Sonata for viola da gamba and harpsichord in G (BWV 1027); Trio super Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr (BWV 676); Vater unser im Himmelreich (BWV 682); Wo soll ich fliehen hin (BWV 694)

There are not that many performers to whom Bach's music does not appeal. Unfortunately, Bach did not provide each of them with substantial solo parts. Recorder players, for instance, won't find any sonatas in Bach's oeuvre, except the sonatas for transverse flute which they can adapt for their own instrument. Among them the six trio sonatas for organ are also quite popular. They can play the upper part without problems, and a number of such performances are available on disc. The disc under review here has something different to offer: one won't often - if ever - hear some of the trio sonatas in a performance with organ and viola da gamba.

Gambists have not that much to complain about Bach: he has provided them with three brilliant sonatas with harpsichord. Even so, it is understandable that they would like to have more. One possibility is an adaptation of the six suites for cello solo. For this disc the performers turned to the organ sonatas. Two of them were selected, either for musical or for personal reasons. In the case of the Sonata in e minor Marnix De Cat, in his liner-notes, refers to the fact that the first movement exists in a different version by Bach himself. He also mentions that several movements from other sonatas did not suit any of the ranges of the various viols. Apparently the pieces on this disc were selected on the basis of the principle that no arrangement would be needed.

This was made easier by the use of three different viols. If only the most common viola da gamba, the bass viol, had been used, it would have been impossible to play any other part than the lowest. Thanks to the use of a treble and a tenor viol, Romina Lischka can play one of the parts that is allocated to either the left or the right hand of the organist. Because of that, it is always clearly audible, whereas in the bass range it may be overshadowed by the two upper parts, as is often the case even in performances on organ alone.

Obviously, the bass viol is used in the Sonata in G, originally for viola da gamba and harpsichord. De Cat writes that a performance with organ is "a practice that certainly existed in the early eighteenth century". Whether he is right or not is anybody's guess, but it does not really matter as the performances on this disc should not be assessed from a strictly historical angle. There is little chance that the chorale-based pieces may have been performed in Bach's time in a combination of organ and viola da gamba. Such pieces in performances with a melody instrument are not rare; I have heard performances with wind instruments, such as recorder, oboe or trumpet. A wind instrument could easily be taken for the register of the organ. That is different here, even though many organs have a stop called 'viola di gamba'. The sound of the 'real' viola da gamba is more easily discernable, also due to its dynamic capabilities.

One may fear that the organ overshadows the viola da gamba, but that is not the case here, also thanks to the choice of organ and the way the performances have been recorded. The organ is a relatively modest instrument, built by the Thomas organ firm in Stavelot (Belgium) in historical style. It suits the purpose of the performers to approach the selected repertoire, including the chorale preludes and arrangements, as chamber music. Moreover, as the picture in the booklet shows, Romina Lischka was seated on the organ loft. The closeness of organ and viola da gamba helps to make them blend and at the same time emphasize their individual characters.

It makes little sense to speculate as to whether Bach's pieces included here may have ever been performed in this line-up in his time. It rather offers a different perspective on pieces all Bach lovers know. They are well advised to add this disc to their collection, because of the unusual approach to the music and the fine playing. Romina Lischka has shown her credentials as a soloists and as leader of her own ensemble Hathor Consort. She confirms her qualities here with performances that are clearly articulated and dynamically differentiated. Marnix De Cat is best known as an alto singer, who has as such participated in many recordings. He was educated as an organist, and delivers stylish performances of the organ parts.

In short, this is an interesting and musically highly rewarding disc which every lover of Bach's music will enjoy.

Johan van Veen (© 2022)

Relevant links:

Marnix De Cat
Romina Lischka

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