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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Flute Sonatas: B minor BWV 1030[17.28]; E major BWV 1035 [11.32]; A major BWV 1032 [12.32]; E minor BWV 1034 [13.21]; E flat major BWV 1031 [8.45]
Philippa Davies (Flute); Maggie Cole (harpsichord); Alison McGillivray (cello)
rec. Potton Hall, Suffolk, 22-24 March 2005
AVIE AV2101 [64.11]

Lets just establish a few basic facts about Bach’s Flute Sonatas. First, they were definitely written for the transverse flute and not as is sometimes asserted in old text books for the recorder. Some, if not all, go too low for the standard treble recorder. However they are now sometimes played on recorder and editions are available, transposed into recorder-friendly keys. The normal transposition is up a third. This is sometimes done with flute sonatas of the 18th Century but there is no evidence that Bach ever treated them thus.

Secondly, and despite Philippa Davies’ heroic attempts in her excellent booklet notes, dating these works has proved to be something of a minefield. Few of Bach’s autographed copies survive and the ones that do seem to be rearrangements of works found elsewhere. It is therefore a fruitless exercise to attempt the dating which is why I list them above in the order they are presented on the CD. Having said that, it should be added that the great Johann Joachim Quantz demonstrated the flute and played it throughout Europe in the 1720s. Indeed having heard the sonatas Vivaldi went off and immediately devised a set of six concertos himself. There is no doubt that Bach fell in love with the instrument at this time not only as evidenced in these five sonatas but also in his use of the flute in the Brandenburgs and even in the B minor Mass.

Highlights in the sonatas should definitely include the well known but all too short Siciliano in the E flat sonata a work which is more like a trio sonata in form than a true sonata. The long B minor sonata, possibly the last to be written and which may date from about 1736 is a real demonstration of Bach’s fecundity of ideas. Just listen to the Presto finale which eventually launches into a bright and highly syncopated gigue. Next, the E minor sonata, thought by Philippa Davies to be probably the first composed. It is reminiscent of the old style sonata da chiesa but with ritornello sections found in the new style concerto forms propagated by Vivaldi. I would also mention the finale of the A major sonata. This version has been most successfully completed by Barthold Kuijken.

So what about this recording, and performance? Without wanting to be too flippant these are the kind of performances you would give to your mother-in-law. They are solid, dependable and above all musical. They do not set the world alight but the music is played just as you would normally want to hear it. For example dynamics on the flute are exceptionally limited. Davies who uses a modern wooden instrument, like all good players, goes in for delicate shading. Phrases taper off and rise with the music allowing a natural dynamic to take shape. Maggie Cole however has the disadvantage of an inexpressive instrument in the harpsichord. The one used here is a copy of a 1749 Goujon by Andrew Garlick. It has a clear and even tone, but the impression given is of a single manual instrument. Alison McGillivray plays a cello of c.1714. I would have liked the balance to have been more in its favour. When heard, the tone seems ravishing and firm. Anyway, surely more bass would have been beneficial.

Having said all that this all-female team play beautifully as an ensemble and are a real pleasure.

Gary Higginson



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