Bach in Black
Dmitry Sinkovsky and La Voce Strumentale. naïve, (p) 2017
- Concerto, BWV 1052R
- Concerto, BWV 1056R
- Concerto, BWV 1041
- Erbarme Dich, BWV 244
- Es ist vollbracht!, BWV 245
- Agnus Dei, BWV 232
Artists: some strive to be different. We typically get recordings of, say, Bach violin concertos, but this program is more about the performer and his versatility. Dmitry Sinkovsky is director, violinist, and vocalist. This release for me was somewhat of a reminder of another violinist/vocalist, Enrico Onofri, who I only believe released one recording where he appears in three roles, featuring music from the early seventeenth century for violin and voice. This is Sinkovsky’s second recital featuring violin and singing, the first was his recording of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons with some vocal numbers.
From a marketing perspective, I get the “being different” aspect of coupling different pieces together that are different from the typical issues. In this case, the schtick was to present Bach’s “Black” side through minor-moded works, although this isn’t entirely possible with middle movements written in the major mode. The theme allowed Sinkovksy to combine some Bach pieces featuring the alto voice. But I need to speak about these separately. As a recital, I am not sure it really works. But let’s be clear: he sings and plays the violin.
The concertos may all have originally been written for violin, but two are reconstructions from the harpsichord concertos. Previous to this recording, I really liked Fabio Biondi’s recording of the concerto BWV 1052, which also is my favorite Bach harpsichord concerto. Biondi’s nuances and flavor make the piece exciting, as he seems at times to ride above the orchestral sound. When it arrived, it was different and interesting.
Sinkovsky’s reading of the same concerto in many ways is even more exciting than Biondi’s, although to get there, he employs some different techniques. The double bass player gets a work out in several parts of the concerto, adding a significant boom to the sound of the basso continuo team that almost results in an energetic sound akin to a door slamming in a reverberant space. Sinkovsky’s abilities are sharp and intonation is very tight. But used in each concerto is his reliance on a sharpness in tone though louder and intense sections known as sul ponticello, or playing next to the bridge. It’s this harsher, more penetrating tone that is typically followed by some mild pyrotechnics, exaggerated ornamentation that I might imagine a famous period violinist such as Pisendel, Vivaldi, or Veracini may have employed in the celebration of virtuosity.
I like Sinkovsky’s reading of the middle (slow) movements; he’s trying hard to do something with the lines and upgrades the movements which sometimes might lack the interest of the faster movements. The “arioso” or middle movement from BWV 1056R is nice. He does pull vibrato out of his bag of tricks, but his ornaments, at least in comparison to other renditions, are new enough (now) to make the movement interesting. The more familiar concerto for violin, the A minor BWV 1041, is cut from the same cloth.
Sinkovsky’s sound versus the orchestra is different for me than what I experience in a lot of concertos for violin. The mixing in many albums separates the violin from the orchestra with its own microphone. It helps push the violin out forward, to live comfortably as the star. What I didn’t like at first was the balance in this recording with La Voce Strumentale. But over time I came to like it; Sinkovsky’s sound is well-integrated in the ensemble then emerges as the soloist. In this way, it’s more authentic.
There are a few other things to point out. The slower pace in the opening movement of BWV 1056R works for me, but seems to speed up a little at the end. I’m not sure why that was necessary. And in the longer concerto, BWV 1052R, Bach provides the opportunity for a cadenza right before the final statement of the theme in the first and third movements. While many performers don’t take the opportunity, I would have liked to heard these utilized with something from the solo violin.
The very strong violin performance is a contrast to the vocal numbers. One of my criticisms stems from the character of his vocal production with a vibrato. This is no better illustrated than in the first aria from the St. Matthew Passion. The violin solo (is it Sinkovsky on violin?) isn’t totally missing vibrato, but the solo violin line is very lean and the character of sound is a big contrast to his voice. The wonderful phrasing in the violin line is akin to someone breathing; to be sure, by Bach’s time, instrumental music was able to match or better vocal music. So why is a voice, in contrast the second soloist, if you will, not matched in style? His voice is definitely a different sound of “countertenor,” and I’m not criticizing it’s androgynous, if not childlike quality. I just don’t like the vibrato.
I also do not care for the inclusion of three pieces from three different works that show no relationship to one another or to the violin concertos, as part of a program. I can without hesitation recommend this release for the new artistry Sinkovsky has brought to the violin concertos. Several times I questioned the historical authenticity of his sound, we need to push the boundaries. Using a delicious sounding baroque instrument and using techniques from the period, why not bring some energy to Bach? Bach’s music is strong enough to be stressed. You can make your own mind up if the vocal pieces are a value add, or if you may want to program them out from the album.