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: Sonates pour violon et clavecin

Screen Shot 2012 01 06 at 11 31 00 PM This is not the first time I've gone on record about this recording; I've had it now for a couple of years, having found the combination of Christoph Rousset on harpsichord and Stephano Montanari on violin a curious duo. Even more curious is the album cover, put out by Ambrosie in 2007. The recording is made relatively "close," with an emphasis on Montanari's sound. The closeness is a minor quip; I think we'd here more dynamic variation from the violin if we were slightly less close to the performer. After all, he does contribute a richness in the dynamic department which is apropos to the music. I've lived with these sonatas for so long; they're akin to 3 part sonatas, except Bach wrote out two of the parts for the keyboard (bass as a basso continuo, the right-hand as a second melody, often in contrapuntal consort with the violin), and of course, the violin. These are the prototypes, I'm sure, for those later by Mozart, C.P.E. Bach, Beethoven, etc. I'm a big fan of BWV 1017, the fourth sonata in C minor. I must have listened to the second allegro hundreds of times, my first exposure being that of Reinhard Goebel and Henk Bouman. That performance of course colored my thinking about this set; it was recorded I believe on the cusp of 1980-81, and had its own recording issues, not to mention a few spots where intonation escapes the otherwise impeccable playing by Goebel. Few recordings since have really tickled me, in terms of inventiveness or interpretive superlatives. Catherine Mackintosh, Andrew Manze, Carmignola, etc. all had noble attempts, none of whom really contributed anything remarkable, at least in the "newness" department. Unlike others, this duo gives us alone the set of six sonatas, BWV 1014-1019, the last (in G major) being the odd-one out, with three versions having survived. We seem to get a good collection from 1019 in this set; although not clearly marked in my electronic edition, it seems with 7 tracks we might have all the tracks required to reproduce both BWV 1019, BWV 1019a, and the alternate movement with solo harpsichord. I also find the later (in terms of Schmeider number) sonatas, which many play with an augmented bass interesting, in the BWV 1020s. Despite them "missing" here, I liked this release. All the allegros don't maintain the same amount of energy as what I feel they probably possess, but many are done very well, with that toe-tapping energy that seems germane to Bach's richer fast movements. Montanari is am impressive player, and his interjection of some turns here, other ornaments there within the collection is a nice way of decorating the line. His energy seems authentic, despite some of the slower movements presenting more of an interpretive challenge. The music is difficult to perform because it leaves both players quite "naked." With Rousset as the back-up man on harpsichord, the duo often lock in to a really steady tempo, with Montanari offering more of the affective goods. He doesn't take every opportunity to lean-in and add what I would have to call attitude, but it's there enough to make me smile. The opening of BWV 1019 is a great example for closer examination. I prefer Goebel's tempo; but these two lock-in and it's as easy as anything to tap your foot to their choice. With headphones as my listening medium, the two instruments could use a tad more air, if for nothing else, better balance. The interpretation is stylish, if not a tad safe. Montanari often takes dynamic contrasts through his reading, although nothing would have been hurt if he amped up the changes even more, for better contrast. The second track, Largo, is delightful, if not too slow. But here's where taking things slow allows Montanari (and Rousset to a degree) to shine through their own aesthetic additions of rubato and ornaments. The next Allegro, for solo harpsichord, is confident, cocky even, played by Rousset with authority at what I would deem an ideal tempo. In the repeat, I yearned for some more fanciful fingerwork, hoping Rousset would lay on a little sass. Instead, it's another clean reading, perhaps with just a hair of the opening energy missing. The next track, an adagio that brings back the violin seems like one of Bach's experiments. The contrapuntal element is there, but the movement lacks the compositional polish of the earlier largo. The next Allegro has such a sound to it I wager this was recorded on another day; the entire recording has more energy, even more volume, when it comes to Montanari's line on violin. Tempo is good, energy is welcome, but I'm not sure they pull off the little licks that tease each other as well as it could be done… but they're approaching an interesting, if not jovial solution. The penultimate movement is another slow one, but here pushed somewhat, in the major mode. I like this approach a lot. The music, not to mention the interpretation, brings a warm smile to the listener. The last track, a cantabile is less successful, and here I blame Bach somewhat… what he wrote isn't a piece of cake for any duo. One version of the sonata is to end with the opening Allegro in repeat; here our friends didn't bother to record that, instead, you have to program your player to go back and repeat that which we've already heard. Despite my nitpicking with BWV 1019, there is still a lot to admire in this release. BWV 1015 sparkles, both with energy, rollicking tempos, and confidence from both players. WIth a love for these works, and no really "outstanding" single release, I enjoy collecting a variety. There's just enough inventiveness here from Montanari (more so over Rousset) to admire this one despite even more recent releases.

Pirates of the Baroque