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JS Bach: Sonatas for Violin and Harpsichord

Mario Brunello (cello piccolo), Roberto Loreggian (harpsichord), Francesco Galligioni (viola da gamba) (Arcana)

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

JS Bach
Sonatas for Violin and Harpsichord Nos 1-6, BWV 1014-1019
Mario Brunello (cello piccolo), Roberto Loreggian (harpsichord), Francesco Galligioni (viola da gamba)
Arcana A490   98:43 mins (2 discs)


This recording explores the sonorities of the four-string Baroque instrument known as the ‘violoncello piccolo’ – a ‘small cello’ that is in fact tuned like a violin but an octave lower. We have largely to thank Italian cellist Mario Brunello for bringing this neglected but eloquent instrument back into the limelight in recent times. Here, he plays a fine copy of an early 17th-century ‘piccolo’ by the Amati brothers – ‘the Maradona of instruments’, Brunello affectionately calls it.

For repertoire on this disc, he turns to Bach’s six Sonatas BWV 1014-19, originally for violin and continuo. Setting them in the tradition of the Italian trio sonata, Brunello and continuo players Roberto Loreggian (harpsichord and positive organ) and Francesco Galligioni (cello and viola da gamba) converse in the language of the most intimate chamber music. The results are strikingly different from performances that spotlight ‘the soloist’ and throw the continuo into an accompanying role.

Notable here are the infinitely varied timbres and textures of the ensemble: close-placed microphones highlight the contrasts of bowed and plucked strings, of legato and pizzicato effects; and the husky organ throws the brilliant harpsichord into high relief. The slow movements are captivating, their wistful tones subtly painted by the dark hued, soft-voiced little cello. Throughout, one wallows in a kaleidoscope of colours that emphasise the busy intricacy of Bach’s tapestries – if occasionally at the expense of line and lyricism. The elegantly packaged Arcana CD comes with a series of thought-provoking notes and photographs that underscore the architectural quality of these timeless musical structures.


Kate Bolton-Porciatti