WORKS: Trio Sonatas, BWV 525, 526, 527, 528, 529, 530 (TRANSCR. GWILT)
PERFORMER: London Baroque
CATALOGUE NO: CD-1345
Should any purist protest, there’s ample precedent for borrowing these gems from the organist’s repertoire and savouring them on alternative instruments. Bach himself borrowed from an earlier cantata for the first movement of BWV 528 and, in turn, reused a trio movement in the Triple Concerto. They are remarkable pieces, compressing four elements of a trio sonata (three written lines plus continuo) under the hands and feet of a single organist – reportedly an exercise for Bach’s son, Wilhelm Friedemann. Their technical challenge has taxed organists ever since, though Christopher Herrick’s fluency (Hyperion) makes them appear deceptively easy. He even ‘unsimplifies’ Bach’s pedal version of a figure, restoring the ankle-wrenching version which hands have just played. He’s superbly recorded, the audience sitting in the nave rather than crowded round the console.
London Baroque revels in these transcriptions. Although most are arranged for two violins and continuo, sensitive articulation and phrase-shaping sustain the distinctiveness of line. An exciting motoric pulse drives exuberant fast movements; tasteful ornaments decorate slower lines where appropriate – in places (such as the second movement of BWV 528) Bach has already said it all. An ingenious stroke is to use a viola for the lower ‘manual’ of two sonatas, offering a rich new timbre. In fact, Bach’s left-hand part never goes below the viola’s lowest note.
Much as I enjoyed London Baroque, a few untidy moments and its brittle-toned, close recording leave me preferring the Purcell Quartet’s elegant, intimate performance as ‘transcription’ benchmark, and both Musica Pacifica (Virgin) and The King’s Consort (Hyperion) provide tempting alternative colours – recorder and oboe respectively. George Pratt