Bach: Violin Sonatas, BWV 818a & 1014, 1015, 1016

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LABELS: Dorian
WORKS: Violin Sonatas, BWV 818a & 1014, 1015, 1016
PERFORMER: Micaela Comberti (violin); Colin Tilney (harpsichord)
Recordings of these sonatas are appearing thick and fast. In January I reviewed a polished performance


by Ngai/Watchorn, though my benchmark was Manze/Egarr/ter Linden. So they remain for now, despite their extremes – off like a rocket in allegros, emotive in slow movements – thrilling in live performance, though perhaps they will ultimately pall with repeated listening. Time will tell.

Comberti and Tilney are markedly less dramatic, the Adagio of the first sonata more matter-of-fact than mystical, the following Allegro poised, stately and with an infectious but unhurried pulse. Similarly, the concerto-like Allegro of the A major sonata sustains a compulsively bounding rhythm, but it builds to a disappointingly restrained climax as Bach abandons counterpoint in favour of virtuosic arpeggiated violin chords above 18 bars of astonishingly static bass.

These sonatas are notoriously difficult to balance. Bach compressed three parts on to two instruments, making the harpsichord right-hand part an equal partner with the violin. Here, the perspective puts the harpsichord distinctly behind the violin and keyboard motifs are sometimes masked by secondary

lines as Comberti upstages them, though elsewhere she takes more evident steps back to allow the harpsichord centre stage.


The three sonatas (of six) on this ‘Vol. 1’ are complemented by an early keyboard suite, BWV 818a. The recording set-up now focuses on the harpsichord, a fine-sounding copy by Colin Booth of a 1710 north German instrument. Tilney capitalises on its strongly contrasting timbral colours in a sensitively fluid performance in which only the Courante risks losing touch with its dance heritage. George Pratt