I love music.

I write about the music I like and have purchased for the benefit of better understanding it and sharing my preferences with others.

Bach Sonatas for Violin & Harpsichord

#alttext# I have so much enjoyed Café Zimmermann's account of Bach concertos on Alpha. This release features two members, violinist Pablo Valetti and Céline Frisch. Despite the fact I need not yet another version of Bach's collection of 6 suonate, I couldn't resist picking this set up. It was recommended in the "Bach" list via Archiv Music, an online retailer of classical CDs. Like the CZ recordings, the duo recorded these sonatas in the chapel at the Hopital Bon Secours in Paris. It's a naturally resonant space, and seems well-fit for audio recordings; in the least, the engineers do a fabulous job with these artists. The microphone setup captured in the CD's liner notes seemed to indicate a simple setup. At first listen, it seems that the harpsichord dominates the texture, the instrument coming through more loudly than the violin. I trust this is an authentic balance issue, and surveying all tracks, it's not consistent: there are times Mr. Valetti is quite capable of allowing his instrument to rise above the sound of an excellent instrument under the command of Ms. Frisch, built by the master Anthony Sidey. Surveying other recordings I own, from Catherine Mackintosh with Maggie Coles, Reinhard Goebel with Henk Bouman, or even the one on Sony by Carmignola and Macon, there are a few things that set these sonatas apart. 1. Recorded sound quality. Some suffer. This release by Valetti and Frisch is one of the top for recorded sound quality, not to mention the quality of the instruments used. 2. Tempi. Manze disappointed in a few of the faster movements with cautious tempi. Valetti directs here with brisk tempi in the right places, balanced by slow movements that never seem rushed. 3. Ornaments and nuance. Valetti perhaps does this best - he's having fun and knows the music well. His style is on par with the keyboard, she's an equal partner. She's no extrovert like Richard Egarr, but it's a good match. 4. The treatment of BWV 1019: with multiple versions available, which one gets recorded? While some have recorded all the movements so we can program our own version, Valetti and Frisch record the 5-movement version published by Atkinol as an authoritative version. This set for me rises to the top three in my collection, and of course it's hard to say which one completely dominates (if one could). Goebel's recording is the oldest, and some balance issues exist between the two instruments. Goebel's sound is lean and thin in parts, and intonation is not always 100% spot-on. Stefano Montanari's version with Christoph Rousset is the other winner to join the big three. He's probably the most creative performer, again performing in a texture which puts the harpsichord in sonic demand, using a much dryer acoustic. The recording being reviewed here comes out with the huskier, meatier tone of Valetti's violin. Frisch's instrument sparkles more than any of the others, like gold paint in sunlight. Comparing albums isn't always fair, but it's a context in which to examine a new recording. If you are considering making a purchase, you want to know what "new" stuff comes to the top, and why one might be compelled to purchase another version of Bach's sonatas (BWV 1014-1019)? For one, I think there is value in stocking-up on multiples of almost any masterwork. These sonatas are indeed masterworks. The accompanying notes in this recording suggest that Bach may have led his ensembles from the violin instead of the harpsichord, citing an account where Bach thought it was easier to lead a group with a violin under his chin. That the sonatas combine a fully-written "concerted" keyboard part with a complex violin part, being at one part melodic, and in another, answering a contrapuntal dialog with the harpsichord, it's clear Bach wrote these for two instruments he knew particularly well. The suggestion of connection between von Westhoff and Bach speaks volumes; and the fact that these sonatas could have been intended for his colleague in Dresden, Mr. Pisendel, is also noteworthy. BWV 1019 here includes the solo movement for harpsichord, which is a particularly modern-sounding work in two discreet voices (right and left hand). The sound of the instrument (said before, but worth repeating) is sublime. Frisch is a very capable keyboard player, and we get the sense she's in a good mood. I only wonder what these guys were thinking (Bach and his colleagues) with a solo movement in there? It seems odd, for one, to include a solo movement like this. Seems hardly fair. The author of the CD notes suggests it completes a grand plan utilizing different keys, and makes sense to him. I only wonder if the violin part is lost? Or did the violinist improvise something? Is this really the most authoritative version? Who is to say. But compared to Frisch's engaging reading of the movement, the following adagio seems bland and most difficult in comparison (I think stylistically, the quick movements are easier than the ones requiring a little more emotional input). Saying that, I think Valetti has a harder time of it, not fully exploring what Bach left on the page. The quick movements do outshine the slow, whether it's the concluding G-major Allegro in BWV 1019, or the zesty allegros in C-minor of BWV 1017. Good stuff here. Warmly recommended.

Bach - Art of Fugue - Christian Rieger

Bach - Art of Fugue - Akademie für Alte Musik, Berlin