Bach: Violin Sonatas, BWV 1014. 1015, 1016, 1016, 1017, 1018, 1019, 1021 & 1023

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COMPOSERS: Bach
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Violin Sonatas, BWV 1014. 1015, 1016, 1016, 1017, 1018, 1019, 1021 & 1023
PERFORMER: Elizabeth Blumenstock (violin), John Butt (harpsichord)
CATALOGUE NO: HMU 907084/85 DDD
The six sonatas for violin and harpsichord, BWV 1014-19, contain some of Bach’s loveliest music. These graceful, flowing duets were also among the most revolutionary works of their time, the first such pieces to free the harpsichord from its accompanying, continuo role and grant it equal prominence with the violin.

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Elizabeth Blumenstock and John Butt, playing Baroque instruments, highlight the music’s sparkling charm while doing splendid justice to its more expressive moments, such as the captivating Andantes in each of the first two sonatas. This double-CD set also includes two alternative movements for the much-revised sixth sonata (notably the ravishing Cantabile, ma un poco adagio), plus the only two surviving sonatas for violin and continuo accompaniment (harpsichord and cello) that can safely be attributed to Bach. In short, these are beautiful performances.

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On their single disc, Mullova and Canino play the first, second and sixth sonatas plus a short sonata by CPE Bach. Mullova seems ill at ease at times, her phrasing a touch brusque. Canino plays impeccably but, to my ears at least, his pianism sounds studied next to the fleet traceries of the harpsichord, just as Mullova’s modern instrument has a grating edge compared to the fluent Baroque violin. The result, on this disc, is a Bach with little joie de vivre. Graham Lock