Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Complete Flute Sonatas
CD 1
Sonata in E minor BWV1034 [13:55]
Sonata in A major BWV1032 [13:37]
Partita in A minor BWV1013 [18:47]
Trio Sonata in G major BWV1039 [12:32]
CD 2
Sonata in B minor BWV1030 [17:51]
Sonata in E major BWV1035 [13:26]
Sonata in G minor BWV1020 [12:24]
Sonata in C major BWV1033 8:28]
Sonata in E flat major BWV1031 [10:34]
Lisa Beznosiuk (flute)
Richard Tunnicliffe (cello)
Paul Nicholson (harpsichord)
Rachel Brown (flute II) (BWV1039), Elizabeth Kenny (Archlute) (BWV 1035)
rec. 12-14 September 2000 and 9-13 January 2001, Walcot Hall, Shorpshire, England.
HYPERION DYAD CDD 22077 [58:53 + 62:45]

This Hyperion Dyad is a welcome re-release of the two CD set reviewed by Kirk McElhearn way back in 2002. I agree with almost all of his perceptive comments, in particular the mildly recessed harpsichord sound which makes the recording a little less incisive and the harmonies less well defined than ideal, and the reduction in clarity due to a perceived distance from the performers, which allows the acoustic to colour the picture a trifle overmuch at times. I would posit however that Bach didn’t ‘think less highly’ of the flute as much as recognise its limitations. Even the shiny modern ‘power’ flutes one hears these days have less volume of sound than reed or brass instruments, and blowing across a tube of any kind is more often than not challenged by strings when it comes to expressive range. This is all in the nature of the beast, and the miracle is the amount of resonance, colour and expression that a player of Lisa Beznosiuk’s can obtain from a wooden pipe with a few holes cut into it.

I have to admit an interest here, having had a few lessons in transverse flute from Lisa when at the Royal Academy of Music in the late 1980s. She was in the vanguard of authentic music performing at the time, something which had been absent from RAM flute teaching until then. I dived in enthusiastically, and from the RAM cellars was lent a chunky black flute with the weight and resonant charm of a police truncheon and bits of chewing gum in some of the finger-holes; someone’s attempt to get the thing in tune. I’m afraid I was soon beaten by the challenge of manipulating an instrument in the same position as a modern Boehm flute but with entirely different fingerings, but always remember Lisa Beznosiuk’s patient attempts despite my lack of discipline, and have remained a fan ever since.

These are all excellent performances of Bach’s flute sonatas. You only have to listen to the solo Partita in A minor to hear how expert Beznosiuk is with the lower lines of the counterpoint, gently pointing out the harmonic rhythm while the melodic lines are carried above. The chamber works are played with expression, but more ‘straight’ than Jed Wentz on Challenge Classics CC72030, who is more exciting but also more flashy, pulling the music around in ways which may not always be preferable. I enjoy and admire his prowess, but find he stretches ‘making a point’ just a bit too far to make this an ideal set. Another fine recording is that by Barthold Kuijken on the Accent label, ACC22150, though if anything this errs a little far in favour of the harpsichord as far as the balance goes. I’m also less keen on the dryness of some of Ewald Demeyere’s accompaniments, the pointillist Andante of the Sonata in E minor BWV 1034 being a case in point. This doesn’t really help the brittle impression many will have of the harpsichord, and the team of Paul Nicholson and Richard Tunnicliffe create a gentler, more rounded impression which is certainly less fatiguing.

Lisa Beznosiuk doesn’t go in for much extra ornamentation, and the technical mastery of these pieces she projects is relatively unassuming. I appreciate this lack of over-complication however, and could listen to her warmly expressive and beautifully elliptical sound all day. The demanding first movement of the Sonata in B minor BWV 1030 is highly toothsome, though the dialogue between flute and harpsichord is again mildly hampered by the rather vague and distant general sound, which favours the flute over the accompaniment Despite moans about the balance, the harpsichord sound is very fine in its own right, with nicely resonant lower octaves. Intonation between the instruments is always perfect, and Bach’s tender slow movements in this sonata and all of the others are always touching and sensitive beyond criticism. The Sonata in E minor BWV 1035 is done with cello and archlute rather than harpsichord which makes for a nice contrast, though the spread chords and filling-in from the plucked instrument makes the accompaniment busier than ideal to my mind. Moving on though, just listen to the Adagio of the Sonata in C major BWV 1033 and having heard it, ask yourself if you can live without it with equanimity.

To sum up, this isn’t a perfect set of Bach’s flute sonatas, but only for the mild misgivings with regard to the overall balance of the recording. I’d happily take Lisa Beznosiuk as my guide in these works as equal and better to most of the transverse flute alternatives around, and as I find listening to these pieces on wobbly modern flute for any length of time well nigh impossible these days that makes her as close to a first choice as makes little difference.

Dominy Clements

Still a top choice for these pieces.