Sonatas and Partitas, BWV 1001-1006
Mario Brunello (violoncello piccolo)
Arcana A469 120:41 mins (2 discs)
The sanctity of original versions was not something that greatly exercised Baroque composers. Bach himself was certainly not averse to self-borrowing and instrumental adaptation with the Prelude to the E major Solo Violin Partita proving something of a favourite, turning up as mini-organ concertos in Cantatas 29 and 120. Here Mario Brunello performs the Solo Violin Sonatas and Partitas on the violoncello piccolo, an instrument which in various configurations, some with five strings, was certainly known to Bach. In an interesting accompanying essay Brunello compares the sound of the violoncello piccolo, here a four-string version, to that of the countertenor and that his approach as a cellist is ‘from the bass line’ upward.
The immediate impression from the start of the first Sonata is not so much of ‘bottom up’ cello-like depth, but of a mellowness of sound enhanced by a sympathetically resonant acoustic that is utterly engaging. Occasionally, articulation is not as crisp as it might be and the contrapuntal movements, while not effortful, are less confident in line than the dances of the Partitas. But balancing this is an infectious spirit in the faster movements and throughout there is both poise and expertise in the ornamentation.
Some may find the phrasing at times a little willful, notably in the first four movements of the D minor Partita, but others will enjoy Brunello’s lightly worn inégalité in, for example, the prelude to the E major Partita. Overall this is an interesting, if not always perfect, take on these revered works.