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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Sonatas for harpsichord and violin, BWV1014-1019
Sonata No.1 in b minor, BWV1014 [12:37]
Sonata No.2 in A, BWV1015 [13:22]
Sonata No.3 in E, BWV1016 [15:06]
Sonata No 4 in c minor, BWV1017 [16:58]
Sonata No.5 in f minor, BWV1018 [18:16]
Sonata No.6 in G, BWV1019 [15:42]
Appendix Sonata No.6: two movements from earlier versions [8:26]
Catherine Manson (violin); Ton Koopman (harpsichord)
rec. no details supplied
CHALLENGE CLASSICS CC72560 [41:08 + 58:25]

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 Roundup.
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.
Brian Wilson