By the 1730s when Bach came to write these sonatas,
the viola da gamba had rather fallen out of fashion, the more modern
cello, with its wider range and richer sound taking precedence. The
French had a soft spot for the gamba, and French composers produced
a large body of work, mainly suites of dances for the instrument. The
German composers tended to write for the gamba in a manner that would
befit any other instrument of solo capabilities, taking full advantage
of its range and flexibility. Bach adapted the G major sonata from an
earlier work for two flutes, redistributing the two solo instruments
between the gamba and the right hand of the harpsichord. The other two
works were intended for the gamba, and are remarkable for the equality
of the two instruments, and the magnificent dialogue between them.
These recordings have now seen several incarnations,
and it is no wonder that they remain viable in the catalogue. Jordi
Savall is a master of baroque stringed instruments, and is arguably
the finest gamba and bass viol player in the world. Since these recordings
were made, he has gone on to make dozens of recordings of early music
with Hesperion XXI and other ensembles of his founding. Ton Koopman
needs no introduction of course, being world renowned as a keyboardist
These performances are full of life, although, some
of the tempi choices are on the slow side, especially in the opening
movement of the third sonata. The interplay between the musicians is
completely infectious and delightful, both players taking full advantage
of the independence of their individual parts. The slow second movement
of the g minor sonata is played with great care and feeling, the sublime
melody literally singing forth from Savallís instrument.
The analogue sound holds its own quite well in this
digitized age, and if there is anything at all about which to gripe,
it is the brief playing time. At a meager forty-three minutes, one would
think that Virgin could find a little something more in their archives
to add on. This recent reissue series dubbed "the classics"
by Virgin is beautifully packaged and comes with notes in English and
French (one would think that a set in German would be appropriate),
which are brief but informative.
There is nothing save brevity to heavily criticize
here. Highly recommended.