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JS Bach: 6 Sonatas for Harpsichord and Violin (BWV 1014 - 1019)

Shalev Ad-El (harpsichord), Simon Standage (violin), Thomas Fritzsch (viola da gamba)

rec: Nov 1999
ram - 52001-1-2 (2 CDs; 40'32"/49'29")

There are quite a number of recordings of these 6 sonatas, some of them quite recent. But it seems some musicians believe there is a place for another one.

The interesting aspect of this recording is the collaboration of a viola da gamba. Although Bach has suggested in the title page that a viola da gamba could play the bass line of the harpsichord part, as far as I know very few performers have followed that suggestion. The only recording that comes to my mind is one of the earliest HIP-recordings of these sonatas, by Herbert Tachezi and Alice Harnoncourt, with Nikolaus Harnoncourt playing the viola da gamba. (I have never heard that recording, though).
This practice creates some problems regarding the balance between the instruments. In these particular sonatas there is a strong tendency to allow the violin to dominate. Unfortunately, that has happened in this recording as well. The cover already suggests a misunderstanding, in that Simon Standage is mentioned first. And indeed, the violin dominates the harpsichord. But in this case that's not the only thing that has gone wrong. The viola da gamba, played by Thomas Fritzsch, makes the lowest part sounding very strong. The result is a dominance of the violin on the one hand and the bass on the other hand. The lines in the centre are more or less overpowered. Shalev Ad-El tries to compensate that by using two 8'-registers or coupling both manuals (at least, that's how it sounds - there is no word about the interpretation nor about the instruments). It doesn't work. On the contrary: it sounds often rough and plump.

I haven't many nice things to say about the performance. I find it almost embarrassing to listen to Simon Standage, who is usually playing in legato style, without any dynamic or agogic accents. This performance doesn't "breath", let alone "speak". As a whole it sounds mechanic, heavy and massive. In my opinion playing baroque music is like telling a story. Nothing of that comes through here.

As a kind of antidote I listened afterwards to the recording by Robert Hill and Reinhard Goebel. The difference can't be bigger. It was like a breath of fresh air. That recording is still first choice.

I'm sorry to say that this new recording is one of the worst I have heard in a long time.

Johan van Veen ( 2002)

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