Bach: Violin Sonatas, BWV 1014-9, 1021 & 1023

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COMPOSERS: Bach
LABELS: Arte Nova
WORKS: Violin Sonatas, BWV 1014-9, 1021 & 1023
PERFORMER: Benjamin Schmid (violin), Anthony Spiri (harpsichord), Sebastien Hess (cello)
CATALOGUE NO: 74321 75502 2
Though to an extent Bach kept faith with the older Italian continuo sonata, his pieces for violin and obbligato harpsichord were strikingly modern. They were a significant departure from the presiding status quo and were probably recognised, even in Bachlifetime, as innovative masterpieces. Years later, in the 1770s, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach commended these sonatas to his father’s first biographer, Forkel, as ‘among the best works of my late beloved father. They still sound very good, even now’. CPE Bach added, ‘and afford me great pleasure… There are some adagios in them which could not be more melodious if they were written today.’

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These are works which are extremely difficult to play, and satisfying performances of them on disc have always been thin on the ground. Violinist Benjamin Schmid plays an instrument tuned, strung and otherwise set up to the requirements of today’s standard violin. Anthony Spiri’s harpsichord, tuned to equal temperament, sounds pleasant enough, and is sympathetically balanced with its equal partner, the violin. The two players achieve a warm musical rapport exploring with spontaneity and delicacy the richly satisfying expressive range of this wonderful repertoire. Their strongest competition at the moment in the non-period instrument category comes, perhaps, from alternative versions by Susanne Lautenbacher with Leonore Klinckerfuss, and Mela Tenenbaum with Gerald Ranck. But the new issue further includes two Sonatas for violin and continuo. Bach’s autograph has been questioned in each case, but they are pleasing works, well worth getting to know and which provide rewarding contrasts with the six great sonatas. Nicholas Anderson