If it’s still rare to find Bach’s sonatas for violin and keyboard
played on the organ, it was certainly much more so back in 1956
when Michèle Auclair and Marie-Claire Alain recorded the set
of six on two LPs. If you happen to have that Les Discophiles
Français DF 209/210 LP, then let me suggest that, if in mint
condition and with an intact, blemish free cover, you are sitting
on a small goldmine. It goes for thousands, and probably ends
up in Japan, home of the ultra-discriminating and well resourced
If you don’t have it, you will be relieved to know that Forgotten
Records has come to your rescue. The organ was the Haepfer-Erman
in Deauville and Marie-Claire Alain is careful to ensure that
her registrations remain apposite, supportive, and deft. This
is a constant feature of the set. It’s as true of the Andante
of the First Sonata BWV1014 as it is of the beguilingly light
Andante opening movement of the Second. In response
Michèle Auclair, who could be a gutsy, high tensile player,
quite voluptuous in ultra-romantic music, fines down her dramatic
instincts and her tendency to push tempi. She plays with considerable
elegance and indeed, sometimes, panache. There are some occasions
when her rather fast vibrato intrudes, but I only really minded
in the slow opening movement of No.3, BWV1016.
As to tempo considerations, it’s noteworthy that with some exceptions
the violin-organ combination isn’t grossly slower than violin-harpsichord
recordings. One might expect that to be the case, given the
sound decay and the possible lack of coordination between the
two instruments, but it’s only in the two slow movements of
No.3 and the corresponding movements in No.5, BWV1018, that
one can notice any slowing of tempi – and this is, in truth,
more an expressive decision than one imposed by the employment
of an organ.
There is considerable colour and distinction in these readings.
Balances are well judged and the music making is at a high level.
The transfers are equally fine. For those interested in this
pairing, and in these performances from the 1950s, Forgotten
Records has done a fine job of restoration.