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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Sonatas for Violin and Harpsichord

Igor Oistrakh (violin)
Natalia Zertsalova (harpsichord)
Recording dates and venue not provided.
CDK MUSIC CDKM 2001 [2CDs: 1:40:49]



Sonata No.1 for violin and harpsichord in B minor BVW 1014
Sonata No.2 for violin and harpsichord in A major BVW 1015
Sonata No.3 for violin and harpsichord in E major BVW 1016
Sonata No.4 for violin and harpsichord in C minor BVW 1017
Sonata No.5 for violin and harpsichord in F minor BVW 1018
Sonata No.6 for violin and harpsichord in G minor BVW 1019

 

CDK Music present a recording of the J.S. Bach six sonatas for violin and harpsichord played by husband and wife team Igor Oistrakh and Natalia Zertsalova. The rather cheap looking and meagre booklet notes provide no details of the performance venue or recording date.

The six sonatas for violin and harpsichord BWV 1014-1019 were not published until over fifty years after Bach’s death. Perhaps the reticence on behalf of his publisher was due to the considerable technical demands required of the soloists. The sonatas are remarkable as Bach does not use the customary basso continuo accompaniment, writing a complete harpsichord part which shares the melody on an equal basis. I find the sonatas to be fine examples of Bach’s remarkable polyphonic writing as superbly demonstrated by the third movement Andante of the second sonata in A major BWV 1015. Another major feature is Bach’s slow movements where he most often scaled new heights, demonstrating a state of sublimity never previously achieved by others.

Steeped in musical tradition and a violinist of the ‘old school’, there are few technical difficulties that Igor Oistrakh cannot brush aside. His playing for the most part is uncomplicated without a hint of risk-taking or noticeable idiosyncrasy. Oistrakh displays a natural elegance and an intelligent musicianship yet I was left wishing that I had experienced more expressive warmth, increased lyricism and improved poetry. The partnership is not as effective and satisfying team-wise as one might expect. The playing of Natalia Zertsalova on harpsichord is wonderfully articulate but does not manage sufficient presence and seemed overawed by Oistrakh’s presence.

When checking the catalogue I was amazed by the number of alternative versions of these works and the listener is spoiled for choice. My particular favourite is the evergreen recording by Arthur Grumiaux and Christiane Jaccottet digitally remastered on Philips Classics Duo 454 011-2. This very special recording of the sonatas BWV 1014-1019 was made in 1978, still sounds excellent, and always manages to raise the hairs on my neck. Of the more recent recordings I also rate exceptionally highly the stylish and colourful digital interpretation on period instruments from Giuliano Carmignola and Andrea Marcon on Sony Classical S2K 89469. Another contemporary alternative is the digital recording from Rachel Podger and Trevor Pinnock using period instruments, on Channel Classics 14798 CD. This is marvellous in both sound and performance and is the first choice of many shrewd judges.

This recording although finely played is not the one that I would choose in this repertoire as the competition is far too tough for Oistrakh and Zertsalova.

Michael Cookson

 



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