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Christian PODBIELSKI (1683-1753)
Sonata in A major for viola da gamba & basso continuo [13.36]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Sonata in G major for viola da gamba & harpsichord BWV1027 [12.40]
Christian Wilhelm PODBIELSKI (1741-1792)
Sonata in G major for viola da gamba & basso continuo [11.21]
Carl Philipp Emmanuel BACH (1714-1788)
Sonata in C major for viola da gamba & basso continuo Wq.136 [16.05]
Krysztof Firlus (viola da gamba)
Anna Firlus (harpsichord)
rec. Polish National Radio Symphony, Katowice, Poland, 2017
DUX 1471 [53.48]

The striking characteristic of this disc is the complete command of the gamba displayed by Krysztof Firlus. He has the ease and accuracy of a true master of his instrument, allowing these four straightforward sonatas to sound their very best, gently singing and elegantly dancing as required. It really is a fine display. That, combined with the beautifully balanced basso continuo of his harpsichordist Anna Firlus, makes for a clear window on this rare repertoire.

The discovery of one composer called Podbielski could only be exceeded by two. As can be deduced from the dates, Christian was an older relative to Christian Wilhelm, in fact his uncle. Neither appear in my Concise Oxford and the former has not even achieved a Wikipedia entry so the interesting accompanying essay, putting both in a cultural context, is interesting and valuable. The elder Podbielski is of the late Baroque, the note describes his sonata as “Telemann like”, and it is therefore well placed next to J.S. Bach. The younger, Christian Wilhelm is clearly influenced by the Galante style, most prominently displayed in the music of Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach. C.P.E. was of course the Bach to whom Mozart and Beethoven referred in such hushed tones as a major influence. Both these two later sonatas are in three movements and have a dance-like freedom of character not to be found in the earlier pair. This is very refined music-making, rewarding careful attention. Most of the movements are over within 3 to 4 minutes and have an effortless quality that is most appealing. Nothing profound is going on, just a display of textbook skill from master craftsmen. The gamba was beginning its fade into obscurity by the second half of the 18th century, to be replaced by the cello. These four works show that, though almost obsolete, it still attracted skilled musicians. Neither of the Podbielskis was known as a gambist, both being keyboard players. Both Bachs could of course turn their huge musical skill to anything.

The recording quality is unusual in that the harpsichord is not given unnatural prominence. Those who have attended live performances of this sort of music will be aware that the harpsichord is a very quiet instrument indeed. Its role is more significant to the solo player than to the audience for whom it provides only a subtle colouring of the music. That is exactly the sound picture captured by the Dux engineer.

Dave Billinge


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