> Bach music for oboe and harpsichord [KM]: Classical Reviews- January 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Music for Oboe and Harpsichord
Preludes and Fugues from the Well-Tempered Clavier
Sonata in G minor, BWV 1030b

[Andante] [8:07]
Siciliano [3:34]
Presto-[Gigue] [5:53]
Sonata in C major, BWV 103

Andante-Presto [1:34]
Allegro [3:23]
Adagio [1:43]
Menuet I & II [2:48]
Sonata in G minor, BWV 102

Allegro [4:10]
Adagio [2:56]
Allegro [5:10]
Prelude and Fugue in c minor, BWV 871, from The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book II

Prelude [4:11]
Fugue [2:21]
Sonata in Eb major, BWV 1031

Allegro moderato [3:39]
Siciliana [2:10]
Allegro [5:04]
‘Organ’ trio sonata in C major, BWV 521

Allegro [5:04]
Largo [5:18]
Allegro [3:33]
Gail Hennessy, oboe
Nicholas Parle, harpsichord
Rec: December 2000, St. Andrew’s Church, Toddington, Gloucestershire.
SIGNUM SIGCD034 [68:39]

Buy from Signum

This recording contains an interesting selection of works for oboe and harpsichord by Johann Sebastian Bach. Not all of them were written for these instruments; the performers have arranged some other works to suit them. The G minor sonata, a challenging work, is most likely for oboe, even though it exists only in score for the flute. And, with the exception of the Trio Sonata for organ, the other works are not even necessarily by Bach. As with several of his chamber music works, his authorship is not proven.

Nevertheless, the music on this disc is indeed interesting. One high point is the performance for solo oboe of the flute sonata in C major. Yet this, too, is an arrangement - Gail Hennessy has removed the basso continuo and plays this alone, under the theory that Bach originally wrote it as an unaccompanied piece. It works relatively well in this manner, although the oboe is not an instrument that naturally lends itself to solo performances.

Overall, this disc has one major weakness: the balance between the oboe and harpsichord is such that the keyboard part is often masked. The music was recorded with the oboe at centre stage, and the harpsichord somewhat in the background. This is especially noticeable in the Trio Sonata, where the harpsichord plays two of the three voices. In addition, Hennessy’s instrument does not always have the nicest tone - it can be harsh and abrasive in the higher register at strong volumes. This gives the recording a somewhat uncomfortable feeling.

This is indeed odd, because a few months ago I had the pleasure of reviewing another disc by Signum which was recorded in a totally opposite manner. The recording of Bach’s sonatas for viola da gamba and harpsichord, by Alison Crum and Laurence Cummings, is brilliant for its recording. I wrote, "Most recordings of these sonatas feature the harpsichord in a very subservient role - the gamba dominates, and the harpsichord goes about its business in the background. Here, the harpsichord and gamba are both on the same plane - after all, in the first two sonatas, which are really trio sonatas, the harpsichord is playing two-thirds of the music. This is a very gutsy choice, on the part of the performers and/or the producer; yet it is entirely judicious." Alas, here I am very disappointed that the same label did not use the same style of recording. This would have compensated for the other weaknesses on this disc.

This is an interesting disc, and one that is certainly unique. The music is quite attractive, but the recording puts the harpsichord too much in the background, giving a lack of balance that is unattractive. Unfortunately, this original disc does not have enough qualities to recommend it.

Kirk McElhearn

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