Recorder, viola, cello and harpsichord make a rather curious ensemble. It is no surprise that there is virtually no music which is scored for exactly this combination. Only one of the three pieces on this disc in which the whole ensemble is involved is performed in its original scoring. That is not the only remarkable aspect of the Sonata in F
by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach. For the recorder part he specified not the most common versions of treble or alto, but rather the bass recorder. As far as I know this is the only composition in music history in which the bass recorder plays a solo role. In general it was used - in particular in the 16th and early 17th centuries - as one part of a consort of recorders. Moreover, the sonata dates from 1755, when the recorder was already marginalised. No wonder Bach adapted the sonata some years later for the more conventional scoring of two violins and basso continuo. The opening movement has short cadenzas in both upper parts. This only emphasizes the discrepancy between the scoring and the style in which the piece is written.
The viola takes the role of the viola da gamba in the two sonatas by Telemann which open and close the programme. This is by no means uncommon; some viola da gamba parts in 17th-century German music can also be performed on the viola. Even so, one misses the specific sound of the viola da gamba which is naturally more brilliant and penetrating than that of the viola. The former has more presence and as a result the balance between recorder and gamba is more satisfying than between recorder and viola. The third movement of the Sonata in d minor
is notable for its general pauses. The two melody parts move over a walking bass for most of the last movement. After about two-thirds of the work motifs from Polish folk music suddenly make their appearance. The closing movement of the Sonata in g minor
is also a reference to Polish music. Unfortunately the artists feel the need to add a little extra which is uncalled for.
Otherwise the performances are outstanding. That is certainly the case with the Sonata in b minor
by Johann Sebastian Bach. It was originally scored for harpsichord and transverse flute, but is regularly performed by recorder players. The result isn't always satisfying as the recorder is often too prominent, whereas Bach treats the two instruments on an equal footing. That is fully respected here: Dan Laurin plays in such a way that the balance with the harpsichord is pretty much ideal. What makes his interpretation especially noteworthy is the rhetorical approach which is explained in the liner-notes. The various sections of a rhetorical speech as they are described in the booklet are clearly exposed here. I liked particularly the differentiated treatment of tempo, with slight rallentandi and accelerations, which creates a great amount of tension. That is also the case in other pieces on the programme, for instance the opening andante of Telemann's Sonata in d minor
These aspects bear witness to the rather theatrical style of playing of this ensemble. Mats Olofsson demonstrates this in his reading of the Sonata in D
for cello and bc, from Telemann's collection Der getreue Music-Meister
. It is one of the best-known cello sonatas of the baroque era. Olofsson's performance of the last movement is increasingly dramatic towards the end. Probably the least satisfying piece is the Sonata in g minor
by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, which was originally scored for viola da gamba. The performance here is justified by the fact that Bach himself indicated an alternative scoring for the viola. This fact is strangely absent from the liner-notes. In its original scoring this sonata was probably written for Ludwig Christian Hesse, one of the last German gamba virtuosos who was Bach's colleague in the court chapel of Frederick the Great. The technical requirements are considerable, in particular in the last movement where the solo part explores a large part of the instrument's tessitura. Henrik Frendin has no problem whatsoever with these technicalities, but his performance is dynamically a little too flat. More dynamic shading would have made this piece more engaging.
There is one other aspect which raises questions: Dan Laurin adds quite a lot of ornamentation in Bach's Sonata in b minor
. This is a matter of debate among scholars and performers as some believe that Bach pretty much completely wrote out the ornamentation he required and that performers should be very reticent about adding more. Laurin obviously doesn't share that view. Even so, I find some of the ornaments a shade overdone.
This is a fine disc. The performances are technically flawless, the ensemble is great and the interpretations are often exciting.
Johan van Veen