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Sonatas for Violin & Harpsichord BWV 1014-1019

Bach's Sonatas for Violin & Harpsichord, Part 2

Continue from Part 1

Donald Satz wrote (January 24, 2001):
BWV 1015 in A major - The first movement, Dolce, is one of nobility and stature having intense sadness lurking about. Podger, Wallfisch, Ronez, Terakado, and Manze deliver fine versions but are the least rewarding of the group. Podger's intensity is relatively low with sadness of little impact. Wallfisch and Ronez are the fastest versions, and some loss of depth is apparent; again, Nicholson does not distinguish himself for Wallfisch. I find Terakado too polite although he is strongly projected. Manze is on the right emotional track, but he's again very soft-toned; the result is low intensity.

Excepting for Biondi, the remaining versions are excellent. van Asperen, Cole, and particularly Leonhardt provide outstanding support. Biondi's is the special performance; his violin is strongly projected and has a blend of majesty and depth that I can't resist. His partner, Alessandrini, is with him all the way. This version identifies itself distinctively from the first notes of the violin, and its intensity is spell-binding.

The second movement, Allegro assai, is primarily a joyous and invigorating fugue with an exciting climax at the conclusion of the central section. In the first theme, the violin has the melody line; in the repeat, the harpsichord has the honors. There is also an element of ceremony and swagger in the first theme. Any worthy version captures a good amount of excitement. Holloway, Goebel, Blumenstock, and Manze are certainly worthy, and I have no complaints. They just don't have as much impact on me as the other performances.

The majority of versions are excellent with some distinctive qualities, but each falters just a little in either the first theme, its repeat, or most prevalently in the central section climax. Kuijken and Leonhardt do not falter at any point. Theirs is an outstanding performance which is relatively slow and provides the most consistent excitement of any version. The ceremony and swagger of the first theme is infectious, and the two performers play beautifully together. But Leonhardt is the real star here; his first theme repeat and central section climax are superb.

The third movement, Andante un poco, is a beautiful and interesting piece of music. The left hand provides a quick tip-toe step foundation of bass semi-quavers, the violin plays the melody line, and the right hand seems to do whatever it wants and yet maintains a perfect contrast and unison with the violin. Put the three voices together and the result is masterful music. Another great aspect of this Andante is how the violin expresses a rather mournful and melancholy mood, while the harpsichord's right hand voice is much brighter/positive and almost sprightly in comparison. These contrasts are paramount, and the tip-toe just keeps stepping along.

Continued rounds of listening kept taking me back to my initial conclusion: every version is excellent. I am very impressed with the results, although no performance reach a pinnacle.

In the last movement Presto, I find that two features dominate my listening pleasure: a noble and heroic element, and descending passages first from the harpsichord then the violin. In slower performances, these descending passages "stretch out" and can have a great impact on this reviewer. They seem to last much longer and become mesmerizing.

Alessandrini and Manze present the least enjoyable performances. Alessandrini is extremely fast; no nobility is conveyed, and the descending passages go by in a blur. Manze's violin practically disappears at times, cutting the voices down to two. A step up finds Ronez with a rough violin sound, Goebel with excessive slurring, and Terakado with his partner Henstra too reticent.

Kuijken/Leonhardt and van Dael/van Asperen provide the outstanding versions. They have delectable nobility and the descending passages are wonderfully extended. The remaining versions are very good.

I find Kuijken the best in the A major with van Dael close behind. Their achievements in this Sonata move them fairly close to the current leaders, Blumenstock and Huggett.

Concerning recorded sound, most of the versions are excellent. Biondi has a full sound which would be appreciated by many folks. Ronez's rough sound would appeal to a smaller population of hard-core baroque violin lovers. The gamba in the Manze recording is placed at the exreme of the right-channel, and that might have been a poor decision. The Kuijken and Goebel issues have a wide separation between the two istruments as was common for the time period. Podger's recording has more prevalent bass response than the other versions. I'm only having any problems with Ronez and Manze. Actually, I've stopped listening to Manze on my headphones where the gamba's extreme place in the soundstage is accentuated. I'm trying every way I can to enjoy this recording.

Continue on Part 3

Sonatas for Violin & Harpsichord BWV 1014-1019: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Carmignola & Marcon | Comberti & Tilney | Ngai & Watchorn (Satz) | Ngai & Watchorn (McElhearn) | Ronez & Kubitschek | Standage & Ad-El

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