Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Concerto for Two Violins in D minor, BWV1043 [14:38]
Violin Concerto No. 2 in E major, BWV1042 [15:04]
Two-part Invention No. 1 in C major, BWV772 [1:18]
Violin Concerto No. 1 in A minor, BWV1041 [13:26]
Alfred SCHNITTKE (1934-1998)
Concerto Grosso No. 3 (1985) [22:20]
Johann Sebastian BACH
Two-part Invention No. 8 in F major, BWV779 [1:00]
Deborah Nemtanu (violin, viola); Sarah Nemtanu (violin)
Orchestre de Chambre de Paris/Sascha Goetzel
rec. no details supplied
NAÏVE V5383 [68:00]

This is the first time the solo violinists of Orchestre National de France and Orchestre de Chambre de Paris, Sarah and Deborah Nemtanu, have appeared together on record. They have always played together but have waited until the ripe old ages of 33 and 31 to take on this project. With a very fine production from the Naïve label this is a significant calling-card.

Stating from the outset that they “have two completely different voices”, there is also a unity of artistic approach and sound which inevitably invites comparisons with the likes of the piano playing Labècque sisters. This is part of the attraction, and while I would be the last to deny any artist their individuality it is that special knowledge of each other’s playing honed over an entire lifetime that holds a unique appeal.

There is no shortage of recordings of these concertos by Bach, and it takes something special to mount a realistic challenge. With their crisp harpsichord continuo and unpretentious approach these are all excellent performances. I was a little worried by the start of BWV 1043, which sets off at a slightly faster tempo than the crotchet = 100 finally settled upon. This is a very minor point in a very fine recording which relishes expressive moments without excessive lingering. The central Largo ma non tanto is taken at a pace which would suit a formal dance from the period, and with lovely little nuances and ornaments here and there this is a performance to hold onto.

Sarah Nemtanu takes the solo part for BWV 1042, and with little controversy in either interpretation the inquisitive ear will immediately want to know how Sarah compares to Deborah in her performance of BWV 1041. With two different works this is a bit of a chalk and cheese comparison, but to my ears Sarah has a more introvert character to her playing, expressively taking her dynamic down at the ends of phrases and delivering a more ‘alto’ sound whereas Deborah’s colours are more silvery and forward. She too is very good at taking on a ‘ripieno’ character when the solo part joins that of the orchestra, but she is also the more risky-sounding of the two, occasionally shooting out a phrase like a firework in the fast movements and giving us some Italianate extra passing-notes and trills in the slow.

There is another case of differing tempo here by the way, with an over 70 start to the Adagio of BWV 1042 and an under 70 continuation after the solo entry – another very minor point but one to watch out for.

If you’ve come across Schnittke’s Concerto Grosso No. 3 then the chances are it will have been part the BIS label’s complete recordings; in that case with the Stockholm Chamber Orchestra conducted by Lev Markiz. This has been a fine reference now for many years, and is hard to beat for sheer impact. The Nemtanu sisters also hit this score head on, and with that Bach-like opening veering off into scary surrealism within the first minute you know you are in for a treat. These two players’ subtle unity and contrasts of sound suit this work superbly. The creepily atmospheric and hotly impassioned sections insinuate through the air like melting timepieces. The “link between music and spirituality” between Bach and Schnittke is pointed out in the booklet, and while it might seem a strange programming choice “the ghost-like presence of Bach in the work” in fact makes the meeting of these two composers an inspired choice.

The extra little fillers of the Bach Inventions are very nicely done, with Deborah’s viola a perfect counterweight to the light touch of Sarah’s upper voice. This release is a treat from start to finish, and we all deserve a treat from time to time don’t we?

Dominy Clements

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