Bach: Sonata in G minor, BWV 1020; Sonata in G, BWV 1027; Sonata in G minor, BWV 1030b; Sonata in E flat, BWV 1031

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COMPOSERS: Bach
LABELS: Amon Ra
WORKS: Sonata in G minor, BWV 1020; Sonata in G, BWV 1027; Sonata in G minor, BWV 1030b; Sonata in E flat, BWV 1031
PERFORMER: Robin Canter (Baroque oboe), Paul Nicholson (harpsichord)
CATALOGUE NO: CD-SAR 60 DDD
The successes and failures of this disc demonstrate vividly Bach’s sensitivity to balance and instrumental colour. These are arrangements of sonatas (two by Bach, two probably spurious) for other instruments: flute, gamba and violin. In such sonatas – effectively trios created from the harpsichord bass line, obbligato right hand and solo instrument – Bach never used an oboe. It simply cannot play discreetly enough to retreat as a subsidiary voice behind the upper harpsichord line, particularly in fast passages, which are less comfortable on an oboe than on the instruments the sonatas were conceived for. So at times the recording makes nonsense of the composer’s intentions – oboe counter-melodies and long notes dominate what should be the harpsichord’s primary voice. I doubt if the transcriptions would ever work satisfactorily in live performance, though more intervention from the recording engineer could perhaps have created at least an illusion of balance here.

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But this brave attempt to expand the Bach oboe repertoire reveals some lovely moments among those slow movements where the harpsichord simply accompanies. Relieved of uncomfortable figurations and the need to tame the oboe’s assertiveness, Canter produces some beautifully controlled playing in two quiet sicilianos, sensitively accompanied by Paul Nicholson. George Pratt