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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Sonata in G for viola da gamba and harpsichord BWV1027 [15:17]
Trio in D minor BWV583 [6:02]
Trio in G minor BWV584 [3:10]
Sonata in D for viola da gamba and harpsichord BWV1028 [18:09]
Keyboard Sonata in A minor BWV967 [3:59]
Keyboard Sonata in D BWV963 [10:27]
Sonata in G minor for viola da gamba and harpsichord BWV1029 [18:39]
Mikko Perkola (viola da gamba), Aapo Häkkinen (harpsichord)
rec. St Peter’s Church, Siuntio, Finland, 15-17 October 2006
NAXOS 8.570210 [75:42]
Experience Classicsonline

The main works on this disc are the three Sonatas, composed either during the period that Bach was in Cöthen at the same time as the great bass viol-player C.F. Abel, or later during his time in Leipzig when he wrote many works for the Collegium Musicum. They are wonderfully varied, each in the form of a trio sonata in which the harpsichord plays the bass and one of the upper parts and the gamba the other.
There have been many recordings, including some using cello and piano, a combination which all too often sounds simply too heavy and unwieldy for the music. I thought initially that this was the case here, but soon realised that this was simply a result of playing the disc at too high a volume. Once I had rectified this the very beautiful sounds of the instruments became a source of considerable pleasure. The harpsichord – a copy by Joel Katzman of a 1769 instrument by Pascal Taskin – has a particularly lovely sound, heard to especial advantage in the two solo keyboard Sonatas. There is always a problem in balancing the two upper lines in the Sonatas and here the gamba is somewhat too far forward for my liking. This has the effects of making the intertwining of the upper parts hard to hear at times and of making the gamba sound at times harsh, almost as though the player was trying to copy the sheer power of the modern cello.
The very first track provides an immediate surprise which proves to be characteristic of the disc as a whole. The G major Sonata exists also in a probably earlier version for two flutes and continuo. It is common for performers of either version to play the first movement, marked adagio, at a flowing speed where the 12/8 bars can be heard as a whole and where the quavers become a kind of barcarolle. That is not the case here. The players take it very slowly, and then add to the effect by applying slight hesitations, presumably to point the phrases. This is disconcerting at first but does mean that the phrases are heard more lyrically and without any sense of haste. A similar approach applies throughout the disc, even in what you would expect to be quick movements. Some do gain from this, but the first movement of the last Sonata – marked vivace – plods along, altogether missing the sense of being a brother to the 3rd Brandenburg Concertos that we are used to. All of this might be enough immediately to put you off the disc, but that would be a pity as it is otherwise notable for the variety of tone and articulation that Mikko Perkola obtains, and for the wonderful phrasing and line achieved by both players. Even where I am not convinced overall by their approach it is clear that it has always been carefully considered and realised.
Similar comments can be made about the remainder of this well-filled disc. The two Trios BWV 583 and 584 – the latter of which is probably not by Bach – are usually heard on the organ but work well in these arrangements. The keyboard works, not often played, are in many ways the most enjoyable parts of the recital as a whole.
This is not then a “safe” option for anyone wanting a single recording of the three Sonatas; it is too idiosyncratic for that. Given the sheer beauty of the playing and the logic of the performances even where you may think them most wrongheaded, I can however recommend it to anyone interested in a thoughtful if not entirely convincing reconsideration of how these works should sound.
John Sheppard


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