Bach: Violin Sonatas BWV 1014, 1015, 1016, 1021 & 1024;BWV 1017, 1018, 1019 & 1023

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COMPOSERS: Bach
LABELS: Dabringhaus und Grimm Gold
WORKS: Violin Sonatas BWV 1014, 1015, 1016, 1021 & 1024;BWV 1017, 1018, 1019 & 1023
PERFORMER: Musica Alta Ripa
CATALOGUE NO: MDG 309 1073-2, 309 1074-2
When Bach’s second son, Carl Philipp Emanuel, wrote to his father’s biographer Forkel in 1774, he described the six sonatas for violin and harpsichord (BWV 1014-19) as ‘among the best works of my late beloved father. They sound very good, even now… and afford me great pleasure, though they are more than 50 years old.’ These sonatas are indeed remarkable for several reasons, and above all for the beautifully balanced and fully worked-out parts in both hands of the keyboard, for their pioneering modernity and for the extraordinary expressive puissance of their slow movements.

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Both sets under discussion here feature the great cycle of six sonatas but, in addition, the German ensemble Musica Alta Ripa includes all the other Bach pieces which fit reasonably comfortably under this particular umbrella. The second of the discs, for instance, contains a continuo Sonata in E minor – its authorship is questioned, but it’s an interesting piece – and a Fugue for violin and continuo whose ambitious, self-assured design seems to confirm Bach’s hand.

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Both sets are enormously satisfying, each with its own character and virtues. Anne Röhrig and Bernward Lohr offer very stylish, un-showy performances. Röhrig’s tone, though not large, is warm and her inflections are sensitive. Giuliano Carmignola and Andrea Marcon sound altogether more demonstrative and I prefer the greater evenness of balance between the two equal protagonists. Carmignola’s tone is ever so slightly less alluring than that of Röhrig but, in the end, it is the crucial factor of linear clarity and a proper trio texture balance which wins the day for the Italians. Nicholas Anderson