Though often referred to as violin sonatas, these
six pieces are properly classified as for keyboard and violin and that’s
how they emerge from this new recording. Christoph Wolff in the booklet,
describing them as a closed set of six works, reminds us that Bach seems
to have been fond of grouping his compositions in batches of six.
The number of recordings of these works in the catalogue is surprisingly
large. While these sonatas are hardly in the same league as the Brandenburg
Concertos or the suites for solo cello, I must admit to finding them
more approachable than the sonatas/partitas for solo violin with which
they share the same intellectual appeal but combine it with obviously
greater vitality and immediacy.
By coincidence I see that Em Marshall-Luck stressed exactly those qualities
in reviewing an earlier partnership between Catherine Manson and Ton
Koopman, on a Challenge Classics recording of Buxtehude’s chamber
music (Volume XII, CC72251): ‘a cerebral, authoritative approach;
a demonstrative realisation; and a performance that has a zest of life,
freshness and vigour’ - see review
Wonderful as it is to find us in agreement, that’s the words more
or less taken right out of my mouth.
These six sonatas clearly had antecedents in the baroque trio sonata
with tripartite counterpoint; one important manuscript describes them
as Sechs Trios für Clavier und die Violone.
The trio sonata
is a form which Bach made particularly his own in the form of organ
compositions, but he was also typically breaking new ground here in
the interplay of the two instruments. (See Malcolm Boyd’s Bach
in the Dent Master Musicians series, p.90, for an example of the extent
to which some passages anticipate Haydn, Mozart and even Schubert).
That can be seen particularly if you compare these sonatas with any
of the many instrumental re-creations of the organ trio sonatas which
have appeared in recent years. Even the best of these transcriptions
- Florilegium on Channel Classics CCSSA27012, London Baroque on BIS-CD-1345,
the King’s Consort on Hyperion CDA66843 and the Brook Street Band
on Avie AV2199 - are less adventurous and ultimately less satisfying
than these performances of BWV1014-19.
The success of the recording is hardly surprising when Ton Koopman is
involved. With very few exceptions where his exuberance carries him
away, everything that I’ve heard from him has turned at least
to silver and mostly to gold. His 2-CD recording of Handel’s Op.4
and Op.7 Organ Concertos on Warner Apex (2564 62760: Bargain of the
Month - review
is not only the best bargain version of those works, it’s also
my benchmark for the music, let down only by its failure to include
The Cuckoo and the Nightingale
and the other concertos without
opus numbers, for which you need to turn to a recent recording by Lorenzo
Ghielmi at the organ and directing La Divina Armonia (Passcaille 990),
my review of which should have appeared on MusicWeb International by
the time that you read this.
I don’t think these Bach recordings will become as deeply engrained
in my affection as those Handel CDs, but they will certainly not be
too far behind. Their success is as much due to Catherine Manson and
the way in which her playing gels so well with Koopman’s. She,
too, is a pluralist recording musician in her own right, with credits
on Glossa, Warner Teldec and as leader of the London String Quartet
on Hyperion - see Dominy Clements’ review
of the most recent release, of Haydn’s Op.20, on CDA67877 and
my September 2011/2 Download
Together Koopman and Manson equal brisk and energetic but not breakneck.
Both demonstrate that period awareness - ornamentation of the keyboard
part, violin playing without vibrato - need not interfere with the quality
and appeal of the outcome.
With good, close but not over-close recording and the excellent notes
to which I’ve referred, only the slightly higher price of these
discs would make you want to turn to the plainer style of Lucy van Dael
and Bob van Asperen on Naxos, though there’s nothing second-rate
about the latter and they include rather more alternative movements
than Koopman and Manson. (Nos. 1-4, 8.554614, 5 and 6 with alternative
movements, 8.554783) Subscribers can and should try listening to these
and a host of other recordings from the Naxos Music Library; this new
Challenge Classics recording should be appearing there soon.