Bach Sonatas for viola da gamba & harpsichord

0 of 5 stars

Sonatas for viola da gamba & harpsichord: in G minor BWV1029; in G BWV1027; in D, BWV1028; in G minor, BWV1030b

Jonathan Manson (viola da gamba) & Trevor Pinnock (harpsichord)

Recorded 11-15 September 2005 at CREAR, Argyll, Scotland

Reviewed by: William Yeoman

Reviewed: June 2006
Duration: 59 minutes

This delightful new recording of JS Bach’s suites for viola da gamba and harpsichord by Jonathan Manson and Trevor Pinnock sent me straight back to the same performers’ equally wonderful recordings of Rameau’s Pièces de clavecin en concert (Channel Classics CCS19098), where they are joined by violinist Rachel Podger. The same qualities of telling rhythmic inflections and absolute clarity of line and texture are here lavished on music that, as organist and scholar John Butt says in his excellent booklet notes, combines “contrapuntal sophistication with light-hearted galant gestures.”

It’s just these qualities that the viola da gamba excels in, its lightness and transparent, slightly nasally, tone perhaps more eloquent than that of the cello (baroque or otherwise) more often encountered in recordings of these works. Of course I wouldn’t like to say that any period performance is by default superior to a cello-and-piano version – one of my favourite recordings of these works is that insightful fleshing-out of Bach’s more expressive side by Misha Maisky and Martha Argerich (DG 415471-2) – but the more rarefied world of gamba and harpsichord certainly seems to address Bach’s more cerebral writing while allowing for the sense of fantasy and dance encountered in the lighter movements.

Both Jonathan Manson and the redoubtable Trevor Pinnock seem almost to pluck sounds out of nowhere and allow them to settle in space; the subtlety of their phrasing seems to know no limits, more than compensating for any lack of dynamic variety (although that is a concern); and their sense of cohesion between the parts is also made evident by the interplay between their instruments. This is immediately evident in the concerto-like BWV1029, which opens the disc, and continues to reveal itself throughout, both in the slow movements (the short opening Adagio of BWV1028 is particularly beautiful) and the more dramatic (like the final Presto that provides a fitting close both to BWV1030b and the disc itself).

A world of suggestion more than literalism, perhaps, but one where precision is absolute. Recorded sound is very fine (but keep the volume down – the recording level is rather high for the nature of the instruments, which mitigates against dynamic contrasts); booklet notes are, as mentioned above, excellent.

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