JS Bach: Sonatas for viola da gamba & harpsichord, BWV 1027, 1028, 1029 & 1030b

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WORKS: Sonatas for viola da gamba & harpsichord, BWV 1027, 1028, 1029 & 1030b
PERFORMER: Jonathan Manson (viola da gamba), Trevor Pinnock (harpsichord)
Bach’s three Sonatas for viola da gamba and harpsichord were once thought to belong to the composer’s Cöthen period. His employer, prince Leopold, was an enthusiastic amateur gambist and the court orchestra boasted a performer of exceptional talent in Christian Ferdinand Abel. Yet it seems more likely that the pieces were written at Leipzig, possibly for Abel’s son Carl Friedrich who lived there for several years and who may even have been a Bach pupil. In all three Sonatas the gamba is partnered by an obbligato harpsichord, Bach placing the gamba line between the treble and bass keyboard strands to provide a distinct voice in the alto-tenor range. Bach always wrote expressively for this eloquent member of the viol family, above all in the wonderful G minor Sonata whose outer movements adhere to the ritornello principles of a Vivaldian concerto.


Jonathan Manson and Trevor Pinnock form a hugely rewarding partnership. Both are spirited players with strong characters but who, yet, are susceptible to the sublime poetry of the Sonata’s centrally placed Adagio. There is much rewarding dialogue in these performances where neither player steals the limelight from the other. The conversational interplay between the instruments is animated and engaging and the rapport between the artists hardly can be placed in doubt. In short, I find greater athleticism and a greater sense of playful spontaneity here than in rival versions either by Jordi Savall and Ton Koopman for instance (Alia Vox) or Jaap Ter Linden and Richard Egarr (Harmonia Mundi). The fourth Sonata in their programme is a transcription of a piece best known in its B minor version for flute and harpsichord but which, in turn, derives from a partly preserved source in G minor. Nicholas Anderson