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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Sonatas for Harpsichord and Violin BWV 1014-1019
No. 1 in B Minor, BWV 1014 [12:10]
No. 2 in A Major, BWV 1015 [12:53]
No. 3 in E Major, BWV 1016 [14:14]
No. 4 in C Minor, BWV 1017 [15:44]
No. 5 in F Minor, BWV 1018 [15:17]
No. 6 in G Major, BWV 1019 [14:41]
Alexandra Ivanova (harpsichord)
Ana´s Chen (violin)
rec. Steppenwolf Studio, Asch, The Netherlands,
ES-DUR ES2073 [39:30 + 45:53]

Whilst the music of Johann Sebastian Bach needs little introduction, I have always thought of the Sonatas for Harpsichord and Violin as the poor relations of his violin music when compared to the Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin, which enjoy a hallowed place amongst violin aficionados. That being said, I do have a couple of very fine recordings, those by Rachel Podger and Trevor Pinnock (CCS 14798) and by Isabelle Faust and Kristian Bezuidenhout (HMM 90225657), both of which offer very stiff opposition to this newcomer.

The Six Sonatas for Violin and Obligato Harpsichord, to give them their full title, are in reality trio sonatas, that is the violin and harpsichord playing the top lines over a harpsichord bass line, there is also an option for the harpsichord to be joined in the bass line by a viola da gamba, but I don’t know of any recordings where this is the case. However, having said this, they are not typical in that Bach wrote out the bass part rather than leave it up to the harpsichordist to fill in the gaps. They were more than likely composed during Bach’s final years at G÷then between 1720 and 1723, before he moved to take up his post at Leipzig, although he continued to tweak the sonatas in the years after his move. The first five sonatas are written in a four-movement structure, with the slow movements in particular, that show Bach’s inventiveness and originality. Something that is discussed in the excellent and detailed booklet notes. But it is the Sixth Sonata, which is in three different versions, that really displays his abilities, with the opening Allegro with its toccata like theme in the violin, setting this Sonata apart from the other five. Another difference is the central Allegro movement, here Bach writes for solo harpsichord, the only solo movement of all the six sonatas. This is followed with a tender slow Adagio before the work ends with another flashy Allegro.

Although the performance of Alexandra Ivanova and Ana´s Chen is very good, I find the tone of Ivanova’s harpsichord a little bright at times and much prefer the instrument of either Trevor Pinnock or Kristian Bezuidenhout. There is also the odd occasion when the violin tone of Ana´s Chen lacks the assuredness of either Podger or Faust. This is a straight performance, one in which Ivanova and Chen play well but do not take any risks, with the other two pairings adding that extra spark of personality. My choice, I am sorry to say, would still be either of their recordings over this new one.

Stuart Sillitoe

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