> Bach - The Sonatas for Viola da Gamba [KS]: Classical CD Reviews- Nov 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
The Sonatas for Viola da Gamba
Sonata Number 1 in G major, BWV 1027 [13:24]
Sonata Number 2 in D major, BWV 1028 [14:52]
Sonata Number 3 in g minor, BWV 1029 [15:26]
Jordi Savall, viola da gamba
Ton Koopman, harpsichord
Recorded at Claydon House, Buckinghamshire, 1-3 March 1977. ADD
VIRGIN CLASSICS 7243 5 62065


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By the 1730s when Bach came to write these sonatas, the viola da gamba had rather fallen out of fashion, the more modern cello, with its wider range and richer sound taking precedence. The French had a soft spot for the gamba, and French composers produced a large body of work, mainly suites of dances for the instrument. The German composers tended to write for the gamba in a manner that would befit any other instrument of solo capabilities, taking full advantage of its range and flexibility. Bach adapted the G major sonata from an earlier work for two flutes, redistributing the two solo instruments between the gamba and the right hand of the harpsichord. The other two works were intended for the gamba, and are remarkable for the equality of the two instruments, and the magnificent dialogue between them.

These recordings have now seen several incarnations, and it is no wonder that they remain viable in the catalogue. Jordi Savall is a master of baroque stringed instruments, and is arguably the finest gamba and bass viol player in the world. Since these recordings were made, he has gone on to make dozens of recordings of early music with Hesperion XXI and other ensembles of his founding. Ton Koopman needs no introduction of course, being world renowned as a keyboardist and conductor.

These performances are full of life, although, some of the tempi choices are on the slow side, especially in the opening movement of the third sonata. The interplay between the musicians is completely infectious and delightful, both players taking full advantage of the independence of their individual parts. The slow second movement of the g minor sonata is played with great care and feeling, the sublime melody literally singing forth from Savallís instrument.

The analogue sound holds its own quite well in this digitized age, and if there is anything at all about which to gripe, it is the brief playing time. At a meager forty-three minutes, one would think that Virgin could find a little something more in their archives to add on. This recent reissue series dubbed "the classics" by Virgin is beautifully packaged and comes with notes in English and French (one would think that a set in German would be appropriate), which are brief but informative.

There is nothing save brevity to heavily criticize here. Highly recommended.

Kevin Sutton

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