The first thing to strike the listener about these 2006 Avie recordings of Bach's Sonata for viola da gamba and harpsichord will be how loud they are. While neither instrument is noted for its power to project, the instruments are recorded so closely here as to be gargantuan in these recordings by Jonathan Manson and Trevor Pinnock. After adjusting the volume, the second thing to strike the listener will be how brilliantly played they are.
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.
Few violinists can move between a modern instrument and a period one with such ease—not to mention with such an idiomatic approach to so many styles of music—as Isabelle Faust. Following her award-winning set of the Mozart violin concertos, the German is joined by the ever-stylish keyboard player Kristian Bezuidenhout for Bach’s sonatas for violin and harpsichord. Both instruments sound magnificent, and these two great players bring breathtaking invention and imagination to the six sonatas. The humanity and warmth of Bach’s music is extraordinary, especially when played with the passion and flair encountered here.
Imagined as a concert that Bach could have instigated, this disc explores the Cantor ‘s art of transcription and reveals the wealth of influences which the Germanic empire was exposed to in the first half of the eighteenth century. Going back and forth between fantasy and counterpoint, between German and Italian styles, Bach makes these forms and styles his own and thus plays with the rich sound pallets of the viola da gamba and the harpsichord. This album is the first recorded by two rising stars whose tremendous energy and complicity has conferred greater depth to this concert.