It is 22 years since Savall and Koopman first recorded the Bach gamba sonatas, in the days when Koopman still looked like he should have been presenting The Old Grey Whistle Test. This release for Savall's own Alia Vox label, however, is right up to date, a tame-haired Koopman and an amazingly unaltered Savall having set them down at the beginning of this year. The recording's quick turnaround is a fitting reflection of the state of the musical relationship that has obtained between these two ever since they first performed together in 1970 after only half an hour's rehearsal. Make no mistake, these Bach performances are right in the slot.
Gustav Maria Leonhardt was one of the best-known leaders of the Early Music movement. A harpsichordist and organist and later a conductor, he was credited with being one of the most important figures in establishing the Netherlands as one of the main centers of period music performances. He had a classical education, then entered the Schola Cantorum in Basle. There he studied organ and harpsichord with Eduard Müller.
Fifteen years after his recording of Bach’s three Sonatas for viola da gamba and harpsichord (on hm, with Rinaldo Alessandrini), Paolo Pandolfo returns to this repertoire a new approach: the fruit of active and concentrated years of consideration, study and research into the inherent possibilities of his instrument. Given the basic differing natures of these two instruments, the performance of these works very often turns – in Pandolfo’s words – into a “musical argument”, rather than what is demanded by the music’s essential nature: a “musical conversation” in which the score achieves “transparency and eloquence”.
If you have any doubt that the fipple flute is an acceptable substitute for the specified transverse one in these works, this recording could allay it. What is lost is the warm, intimate, breathy, pitch-bending sound of the minimally-keyed wooden instrument, but what is gained is the luculent clarity and (in Petri's hands) spot-on accuracy of the recorder. Instruments at period pitch (which for her own good reasons Petri does not use) would restore some of the warmth, but rarely can you have everything—and here you have so much to be grateful for.