As with so many of Bach's works, musical scholars have not found the origins clear for the six Sonatas for Violin and Harpsichord, BWV1014-1019. Although Bach probably wrote them during his final years in Cothen (1720-23), just before moving to Leipzig, the only existing scores derive from his Leipzig years and show continuing revisions.
In any case, what is known for sure is that musical scholars, critics, and listeners alike have all loved the sonatas, Bach himself saying of his style that all the voices should "work wondrously with each other." Apparently, he and his followers agreed they do. Bach's son, C.P.E. Bach, described them as among the finest things his father composed.
The two performers here are experts in their field. American concert violinist Rachel Barton Pine began playing the violin at age three, made her debut with the Chicago String Ensemble at the age of seven, and played with the Chicago Symphony at the age of ten. On the current disc she plays an original, unaltered instrument by Nicola Gagliano, 1770. American harpsichordist Jory Vinikour has twice been nominated for Grammy Awards and here plays a replica instrument built in 2012 by Tony Chinnery after a 1769 model by Pascal Taskin. Bach stipulated that the harpsichord pairing for the violin was mandatory (obbligato), although the bass line could be taken by an optional viola da gamba. Vinikour opts to do it himself.
One of the remarkable aspects of Bach's sonatas is that they are among the earliest examples of pairing the two instruments as coequals. The harpsichord doesn't so much accompany the violin as the two are treated as equivalent partners. One instrument doesn't just play along in the background, but both instruments share the center stage as a duet.
|Rachel Barton Pine|
With BWV1015, things seem a bit more normal for period instruments. even though it, too, begins with a slow movement. The piece is graceful yet spirited, with the performers clearly taking delight in the music making. That takes us to the Sonata in E major, BWV1016, which is probably the highlight of the set. It's rich and lush, ornate and opulent, vibrant and vivacious. More important, it affords the two players a further chance to show off their skills, separately and together. The instruments intertwine so seamlessly they almost sing as one voice, like a great symphony orchestra where you never notice the contributions of any one or two sections but rejoice in the overall effect.
Disc two continues in much the same manner, with BWV1017-1019. But there is a difference. Bach appears to have done more revision on the final Sonata than the others, and here we find it presented in five movements rather than four. Apparently, it exists in a number of different versions, with yet another movement discarded, the Cantabile in G major, BWV1019a. It is about twice as long as any of the other movements, which is possibly why Bach didn't think it belonged, upsetting the balance of the movements as it would. So Ms. Barton Pine and Mr. Vinikour offer it as a stand-alone piece. It's certainly lyrically beautiful, and they do it supreme justice.
Producer James Ginsburg and engineer Bill Maylone recorded the sonatas at Nichols Hall at the Music Institute of Chicago in September 2017. The somewhat close miking seems to stretch the violin and harpsichord a little too far across the sound stage for my taste, but reducing the volume a decibel or two ameliorates the situation considerably. Maybe it's Cedille's way of telling you to turn it down. Whatever, there is no question both instruments benefit from the miking's added clarity and presence, with excellent detailing and transparency. The instruments appear lifelike all the way around, with a hall resonance that flatters but never intrudes upon their sound.
To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click below: