CHANNEL CLASSICS CCS SA 27012 (75:53)
Back in 34:4 I reviewed and gave a qualified recommendation for a disc of these six Trio Sonatas in transcriptions for a quartet consisting of two baroque violins, baroque cello, and harpsichord. A major selling point of that release was that it avoided transposition of the pieces into keys other than the original ones, as most such arrangements must do to be adapted to wind and string instruments. If that is a major sticking point for you, or if you object in principle to hearing these works in such arrangements rather than in their original scoring for keyboard, this release will be of no interest to you. Here the six works are adapted to a period-instrument sextet of flute, violin, cello (or piccolo cello), viola da gamba, lute, and harpsichord, with four of the six works transposed to different keys as needed. Not all six instruments play together; the number performing in a given sonata ranges from only two (flute and harpsichord in No. 5) to five (all but the cellist in No. 2). A brief table in the booklet handily lists both the instrumentations and transpositions for each sonata.
However, let me urge anyone who has such objections (and they are ones to which I myself am inclined) to lay them aside, for these are some of the most captivating performances of Bach I have ever encountered. (In reading that statement, readers may recall that I recently reviewed the 153-CD complete Bach Edition on Teldec.) The entire disc is suffused with joy; every fast movement dances with elegance and vitality; every slow movement is infused with lyricism and a sweet, soulful gravity. All the instrumental parts are rendered with crystalline clarity and yet also blended into a seamless unity. Although the string instruments are played with minimal vibrato, they have uncommonly beautiful timbres that I find utterly beguiling, and the harpsichord is a first-rate instrument.
Many years ago I owned a Virgil Fox live “Heavy Organ” concert LP, wherein to an enthusiastic audience he excoriated so-called “interpreters” who want to stick Bach on a dusty shelf and asserted, “Bach has the red blood of the people!” While this release has none of Fox’s Barnum-and-Bailey showmanship, if he were hearing it he would be nodding his head vigorously in approval at its red-blooded gusto. The recorded sound is ideally warm and balanced; occasionally the performers’ breathing is audible, but that too forms part of the music-making. (In 1980 I attended a performance in Detroit of the Brahms First Piano Quartet, given by Isaac Stern and his usual colleagues. Throughout the gypsy-like finale Stern was vigorously rocking back and forth on a chair that emitted a loud “Squeak! Squeak!” with his every motion. He was utterly oblivious to it, and the performance was so blazingly intense that the squeaks simply became part of the music as well.) The booklet provides trenchant notes, details on the instruments used, and a Florilegium discography. If you pass this disc by, you are needlessly depriving yourself of an uncommon musical treat. Splurge here, and you won’t regret it!
James A. Altena