Review by: John Greene
Artistic Quality: 10
Sound Quality: 10
What distinguishes these revolutionary sonatas for violin and harpsichord from those composed previously by others rests with Bach’s liberation of the keyboard from its traditional role as a continuo instrument. Given this independence, both instruments share equal, though at times fairly disparate musical roles here; and the most successful interpretations all but depend on how well the performers negotiate a balance between the two. In this recent complete set of the six sonatas violinist Chiara Banchini and harpsichordist Jorg-Andreas Botticher deliver performances that not only exemplify this complementary spirit but also manage to take some welcome risks, making this one of the more exciting cycles currently available.
Their performances of the final Allegro of the First sonata BWV 1014, second-movement Allegro of the Second sonata BWV 1015, and final Allegro of the Third sonata BWV 1016 are inordinately fast and absolutely breathtaking. However, their remarkably relaxed, delicate handling of the third-movement Adagio of the Fourth sonata BWV 1017 and the fourth-movement Adagio of the Sixth sonata BWV 1019 provides ample contrast—the two movements rarely sound this eloquent and graceful in the hands of others.
It should also be noted that Botticher performs on a German disposition 16’ harpsichord (Kramer after Zell), a larger instrument than usually heard in recordings of these works, yet the kind that Bach was known to have employed throughout his life. This clearly proves to be a sonic advantage that not only allows both instruments equal clarity and presence (Koopman in my reference recording understood this as well when he chose a substantial Ruckers model for his cycle), but more importantly heightens the spirit of instrumental independence Bach originally sought to achieve here. All in all, an excellent new period-instrument cycle worthy of serious consideration.
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Recording Details:Reference Recording: Monica Huggett / Ton Koopman (Philips)
- BACH, J.S.:6 Sonatas for Violin & Harpsichord BWV 1014-1019