This is the second release that has come my way lately of the Bach Violin and Keyboard Sonatas with accompanying instruments other than harpsichord or piano. In August 2014, I reviewed
and nominated for ‘Recording of the Month’ a two CD set of the sonatas with Yehudi Menuhin. On that occasion, he was not only partnered by George Malcolm on the harpsichord, but also by Ambrose Gauntlett on the viola da gamba. This terrific set was also issued by Forgotten Records. The release under review here emanates from the same stable, this time featuring the French violinist Michèle Auclair and her compatriot Marie-Claire Alain on the Haepfer-Erman organ in Deauville, in a recording made in 1956 for Les Discophiles Français (DF-209-210).
Michèle Auclair, born in Paris in 1924, began studying the violin at the age of six. She hailed from a very cultured family. Her father and grandfather were not only amateur musicians but painters also. It was in this artistically nurturing environment that her prodigious talent was cultivated. Her first teacher was Line Talluel, who also taught Ginette Neveu. She then went on to study at the Paris Conservatoire with Jules Boucherit, Jacques Thibaud and Boris Kamensky. She was a prize-winner of the first Marguerite Long – Jacques Thibaud Competition in 1943. In 1946 she won first prize in the Geneva International Competition. From then on her career took off. After the war, Auclair travelled to the USA for further studies with Theodore and Alice Pashkus in New York. Sadly, in the mid-sixties, Auclair was involved in an automobile accident which put paid to her career as a soloist. She devoted the rest of her life to teaching and supporting young violinists both at the National Conservatory of Music in Paris (1969-1989) and at the New England Conservatory in Boston (1989-2002). She died in Paris on 10 June 2005, aged eighty.
The Violin Sonatas were not published in Bach’s lifetime and the precise dates of their composition cannot be determined with any certainty. They underwent two revisions, the second about 1740. It is most likely that they were composed in Cöthen and revised in Leipzig.
This set represents a refreshing approach to these works. The organ never sounds monotonous as Alain judiciously selects a range of registrations which provide contrast and colour to the proceedings. Neither does the organ drown out the violin; the recording engineers have struck a perfect balance between the two instruments. I would have expected a rather echoey or over-resonant acoustic, but this is not the case. The recording ambience is warm and intimate. Tempi, phrasing and dynamics are well-chosen and well-matched and Auclair projects the melodic strands with clarity. Her burnished warm tone matches the rich sonorities of the organ. Intonation is, at all times, pure.
Good quality source material has been used in the re-mastering process. There was just one track (the third movement of BWV 1016), which sounded as though the LP had suffered some slight wear, but this is a minor problem. This set represents an interesting take on some magnificent works.