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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Sonatas for Violin and keyboard 1-6, BWV 1014-19
Reinhold Barchet (violin)
Robert Veyron-Lacroix (harpsichord)
rec. 1960, Studio Barclay, Paris FORGOTTEN RECORDS FR1023/4 [47:16 + 50:55] Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Sonatas for Violin and keyboard 1-6, BWV 1014-19
Robert Gerle (violin)
Albert Fuller (harpsichord)
rec. 1961, venue not given FORGOTTEN RECORDS FR1031/2 [45:13 + 46:53]
I never tire of the wealth of ingenuity and invention in Bach’s Sonatas for Violin and Keyboard. Of late, several versions, transferred from LP to CD, have come my way. The two cycles under review here, recorded a year apart in the early nineteen-sixties, are new discoveries for me. I recently reviewed two other traversals, also from the Forgotten Records stable, by Yehudi Menuhin and Michèle Auclair.
The Sonatas themselves were not published in Bach’s lifetime and the precise dates of their composition are not definite. What is certain is that they underwent two revisions, the second about 1740. The likelihood is that they were composed in Cöthen and revised in Leipzig.
The earliest of these two cycles – Barchet/Veyron-Lacroix - was recorded in September 1960 in Paris. Reinhold Barchet (1920-1962) was a German violinist, who forged a career as a concertmaster and soloist. I was astonished that there is a dearth of information about him on the internet. He founded the Barchet String Quartet in 1952. This illustrious ensemble made distinguished recordings of the Mozart String Quartets and Quintets. Barchet himself made some notable recordings for Vox, including the perennial Four Seasons. The only time I have heard him is on a Denon CD (COCQ-84445) from Japan playing Bach Violin Concertos; a disc well-worth seeking out.
A year later in 1961, Robert Gerle set down his cycle, partnered by Albert Fuller (1926-2007) on the harpsichord. Gerle isn’t too well-known these days. He was born in 1924 to Hungarian parents in a region of Italy that is now part of Croatia. Raised in Budapest he was a graduate of the Franz Liszt Academy. In 1942 he won the Hubay Prize yet spent a good deal of the second world war in a labour camp in Budapest. Gerle very nearly faced the firing squad at the hands of the Soviets and would have been killed had it not been for his playing some Tchaikovsky for his captors. In 1950 he crossed to the States where he remained for the remainder of his life. There he established a three-pronged career as a violinist, conductor and teacher. He died in 2005, aged eighty-one.
In the 1950s and 1960s he made several LPs for Westminster. The only time I have encountered him is on his LP of the Barber and Delius Violin Concertos, transferred to CD some years ago on a limited edition reissue label (ReDiscovery Stereo RD 152). The Delius is one of the finest readings of this seldom-recorded work I have ever heard. In 1970, also for Westminster, he recorded the complete Beethoven Sonatas for Violin and Piano with his wife, the pianist Marilyn Neeley. Sadly these, as far as I know, have never made it onto CD.
There are remarkable differences between these two sets. The earlier Barchet/Veyron-Lacroix is taken from Erato LPs and the sound quality is noticeably more bright, focused and immediate. The balance achieved between the two instruments is ideal. The Gerle/Fuller has been transferred from an original Decca Records 2 LP gold label pressing set with catalogue number DXA 168 (mono) and DXSA 168 (stereo). Here the recording is thin, less warm and considerably less focused. I was put off by the recessed harpsichord placement.
Barchet has a more vibrant and opulent tone, and his vibrato is more varied, allowing him a richer tonal palette. His tone radiates an inner warmth which is lacking in Gerle’s playing, whose fast, relentless vibrato and limited colouristic range renders his sound almost monochrome. Take the opening movement of the Sonata No. 3 BWV 1016, Barchet savours the moment and his burnished tone confers an aura of warmth and sensuality. Gerle, on the other hand, lacks Barchet’s range of expression. Barchet also has the advantage of a more sympathetic partner in Veyron-Lacroix. I found Fuller less than satisfactory, providing mechanical accompaniments, lacking in expression. Gerle and Fuller adopt faster tempi generally which, as in the case of the Sonata No. 1 BWV 1014 fourth movement, can make their performance sound rushed. One gets the feeling that they can’t wait to get it over with. In the opening Siciliano (Largo) of no. 4 in C minor, BWV 1017, Barchet’s emotional projection shows greater imaginative scope than Gerle’s, a factor I found throughout the cycle.
So, what we have are two very diverse readings. Of the two, it would be the Barchet/Veyron-Lacroix I would opt for, hands down.