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Early Music

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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Sonata for violin in G, BWV 1021 [8:28]
Sonata for violin in C minor, BWV 1024 [12:10]
Sonata for violin in E minor, BWV 1023 [11:39]
Sonata for violin in G, BWV 1019a (with alternative movements) [15:52]
Carl Philipp Emanuel BACH (1714-1788)

Sonata for violin in B-flat, VW 77 [14:01]
Sonata for violin in D, VW 71 [10:53]
Jacqueline Ross, violin
David Ponsford, harpsichord
Richard Boothby, viola da gamba
Recorded 11-13 November 2002, St. Andrew’s Church, Toddington DDD
GAUDEAMUS CD GAU 345 [74:05]


 

In some of the most straightforward and delightfully unmannered period instrument performances to cross my desk in some time, Jacqueline Ross and company have served up more than an hour of Bach family gems. These are certain to please. Although a full disc of music by the master from Leipzig would have satisfied any appetite, we are also given a fine bonus of two sonatas by the second eldest and most gifted of the Bach children, Carl Philipp Emanuel.

The bulk of Bach’s chamber music was composed in Cöthen while Bach was court composer to Prince Leopold (1717-23). Early Bach biographer Johann Forkel recorded in 1802 that the six extant accompanied violin sonatas, four with elaborately written out keyboard parts and two with only figured bass continuo (which the harpsichordist would "realize" at sight), were written during this period. The first authentic source material, however, comes from around 1725, some two years after Bach had taken up residence in Leipzig. There is ample evidence that Bach revised the works on more than one occasion as well. The performance of BWV 1019 makes use of some of these revisions. BWV 1024 has long come to be accepted as authentic, although the only surviving manuscript is in the hand of Johann Georg Pisendel, a composer and violinist from Dresden.

After Bach’s death, a great deal of his music fell into obscurity, a travesty that would continue until well into the nineteenth century when Felix Mendelssohn would play a vital role in reviving works by both Bach and George Frederick Handel. The sonatas, however, seemed to enjoy a long life, and C.P.E. Bach continued to play them and regard them with high esteem some fifty years after his father’s death.

And what of the music of the son? No small player in his own right, C.P.E. Bach was to have a major influence on the style of his day, and was highly respected by no less figures than Haydn and Mozart. The influence of his father is evident in the structure of the two sonatas presented here, and he seems to have inherited the gift of melody from his famous progenitor. Influence aside, the younger composer’s works are indeed his own, and the later sonata is a fine example of the empfindsamer Stil, in which the listener’s emotions were to be touched by the intimate and subjective forms of melodic expression.

These are elegant and thoughtful performances, which, as I mentioned in the introductory paragraph, are thankfully devoid of the often-pretentious affectations and mannerisms of much period instrument playing. Ms. Ross plays her rare Amati violin with a rich and warm tone, and she has an excellent sense of rhythm and line. Messrs. Ponsford and Boothby provide fine accompaniment, and their ensemble is tight and appropriately balanced. Most delightful is the consistently "right" choice of tempi. One never feels that the music is being pushed outside its natural bounds, and there is verve and excitement without a hint of the breathless quality of many baroque performances.

Production values, at least for the recording itself, are above reproach. The booklet leaves something to be desired, as it is marred by the absence of the younger Bach’s name and works on the front cover (come on, he’s hardly an ‘also-ran’). The cover also touts three "first recordings," then promptly fails to inform us poor readers as to which ones they are. Ahem. Have I ever mentioned in these pages that sloppy program books are amongst my biggest peeves? Notes by Robin Stowell are concise and informative.

A highly recommended release.

Kevin Sutton



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