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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Sonatas for flute and continuo: CD 1: Sonata in B
minor BWV 1030 [18:48]; Sonata in E minor BWV 1034 [14:15]; Sonata
in E major BWV 1035 [12:35]; Sonata in A major BWV 1032 [14:35];
CD 2: Sonata in G minor BWV 1020 [13:27]; Sonata in C major
BWV 1033 [9:08]; Sonata in E flat major BWV 1031 [11:27]; Partita
in C minor BWV 997 [20:07]; Partita in A minor BWV 1013 [13:30]
Hansgeorg Schmeiser (flute); Ingemar Rainer (harpsichord); Orhmar
rec. 10-14 September 2007 and July 1996, Wyastone Leys, Monmouth.
NIMBUS NI 5829/30 [60:20 + 67:46]
This well-produced two disc set features a clarity of sound one has come to associate with Nimbus. Bach’s flute sonatas are staples in the instrument’s repertoire, and this recording contains the set of six sonatas BWV 1030-1035, as well as three other other flute works, including the unaccompanied A minor partita. Schmeiser makes a very pleasing, warm tone, and his modern flute is beautifully balanced by the harpsichord and cello.
The highly chromatic and substantial B minor sonata begins, with its musically complex opening movement, lyrical slow movement and fugue-style Presto, which gives way into a gigue-style allegro. This is a difficult work, with complex phrasing and stamina required of the performers. Schmeiser’s tempi are unhurried, and his playing possesses a sense of effortless control.
The E minor sonata is one of my favourites, and Schmeiser performs the first movement with just enough rubato for the phrasing to be clear, without getting in the way of the line. The second movement Allegro is spritely and energetic, with a lightness of touch and clear articulation, while the magnificent slow movement never becomes over-indulged and retains a sense of gentle tranquility. The final movement is once again fast paced, and has occasional moments where the control seems to be overtaken by the momentum, and I would perhaps have enjoyed slightly more shaping in the line, but these are minor criticisms in an otherwise highly convincing performance.
The opening movement of the E major sonata is beautifully phrased, with well-placed ornamentation. The rest of the sonata is light and bright, especially the fast movements, and the sound quality matches the major tonality, giving character to the music and a definitely sense of contrast with the previous sonata.
The A major sonata ends the first disc. This sonata exists in a number of different reconstructions, since part of the sonata was lost. The version played here is highly convincing, with a cheerful opening movement and dark, contemplative slow movement. The opening phrase of the final fast movement is stated clearly and with precision by Ingomar Rainer’s harpsichord playing, which once again sensitively accompanies once the flute joins.
The second disc contains a number of works which may have been written by Bach’s contemporaries, but have been historically attributed to JS Bach. The Sonata in G minor, BWV 1020 is one such work; current scholarship now names the author as CPE Bach. This is a charming work, with a true sense of duo between the flute and the keyboard, and the flute used mainly in its low register. The lilting slow movement gives melodic interest to the keyboard while the flute holds long notes. Schmeiser and Rainer perform this beautifully, with a lovely sense of balance between the parts. The last movement is taken at a conservative pace compared to some versions I have heard, but this choice works very convincingly, with a feeling of deliberate placing of the notes and a strong sense of direction maintained throughout.
The C major Sonata contrasts dramatically from the B minor at the beginning of the first disc, in that it is musically much more simple with no hints at chromaticism. It is, however, a charming piece with a cello line adding to the bass. The sonata is thought perhaps to have been written as a compositional exercise by CPE Bach under the guidance of his father. This rendition is poised and beautifully phrased, and highly enjoyable to listen to.
The composer of the E flat major Sonata is thought to be Bach’s son-in-law, JC Altnikol. Schmeiser plays the first movement a little slower than I am used to hearing, but he brings out the music’s lyrical qualities and his choice is once again convincing. The beautiful Siciliano is played simply with lovely phrasing, while the final movement is triumphant and well paced.
The C minor Partita has a very different feel than the other sonatas. Originally composed for lute, the work seems heavier than the other pieces, and the cello adds weight to the bass line in the opening movement. Following the form of a suite of dances, the opening prelude is followed by a Fugue, Sarabande, Gigue and Double. The fugue has some of the musical complexity of the B minor sonata, with some wonderful twists of harmony and some nimble finger-work from both the flute and harpsichord. The Sarabande is reminiscent of a vocal aria in its lyrical style, with wonderfully floating melodic lines and an obbligato accompaniment. The last movement features an extended harpsichord solo, which is an excellent opportunity to enjoy Rainer’s even technique and clear sound.
The A minor Partita for solo flute ends this collection of Sonatas; this is a reissue of a recording made in 1996. This is a pleasingly straight-forward performance, with just the right amount of rubato to give a clear lead through lines without over-complicating Bach’s writing
Schmeiser’s interpretations are never self-indulgent, and one feels a sense of reverence for the music, with respectful and tasteful decisions made throughout the performer’s musical process. This is a wonderful collection of recordings which feel natural and well-considered. Excellent.
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