Bach’s Organ Trios Transcribed by Florilegium

Review by: David Hurwitz


Artistic Quality: 8

Sound Quality: 10

Bach’s six organ trios are widely praised as miracles of contrapuntal purity, the three parts being managed by the player’s two hands and (collectively) feet. Even listeners who dislike organ music tend to enjoy these trios; there’s nothing else quite like them in all of music. Bach loved them too, evidently, for he reused several of their movements in other works (or maybe it was the other way around). Turning these trios into “trio sonatas” abandons some of this purity, and thus the clarity, of three-voiced writing through the addition of a continuo part that provides filler harmonies that the music frankly doesn’t need. On the other hand, the process is perfectly legitimate in giving us six more trio sonatas to add to Bach’s scanty output for chamber forces, and it has been beautifully done here.

Florilegium has gone for maximum color and contrast in arranging each sonata for different forces: flute, violin, cello, and harpsichord; violin, viola da gamba, and harpsichord; flute and harpsichord; viola/violin, viola da gamba, cello, and lute; piccolo cello and harpsichord; flute, violin, viola da gamba, lute, and harpsichord. All of these different ensembles color each work’s three voices quite captivatingly, and on the whole it works quite well. The playing is consistently fine, especially by violinist Rodolfo Richter, and the harpsichord continuo is very sensitively managed.

My only quibble concerns the two sonatas featuring flute with violin (not flute alone), in which the relatively weak, hollow tone of the baroque flute, especially in its low register and despite the fact that the sonatas have been transposed to suit the range of the instruments, can’t really stand against the more full-bodied timbre of the violin. Still, the gorgeous SACD sonics capture the ensemble’s timbral variety perfectly, and many listeners will welcome the opportunity to hear some of Bach’s best instrumental music in these new, impressively idiomatic arrangements.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: None for this arrangement

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