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Sonatas for Violin & Harpsichord BWV 1014-1019

Bach’s Sonatas for Violin & Harpsichord, Part 3

Continue from Part 2

Donald Satz wrote (February 5, 2001):
Bach's Sonata No. 3 in E major BWV 1016 begins with a lovely Adagio which is similar to the Adagio from Sonata No. 1 in that the trio sonata form is largely replaced with a violin solo with an obbligato accompaniment. The music presented by the violin is poignant and quite sad and melancholy, although delightful rays of light strike through the darkness in a subtle and wonderful fashion. All the while, the harpsichord keeps playing a motif of a delicately guiding nature which still sets a strong foundation. In a sense, it's like a conversation between a child of somewhat swirling emotions and a parent displaying strength, consistency, and love.

Biondi's full violin sound usually does not extend beyond my threshold of romanticism, but he goes well beyond in the Adagio. It dampens my enjoyment considerably. Terakado is one of three relatively fast readings, the others coming from Wallfisch and Goebel. In Terakado's performance, the short and unattractive bow strokes take away the depth of the music. Goebel displays many irritating habits such as sudden stops and romanticized phrasing; his performance sounds rushed at times, and Hill adds to the problem.

Holloway and Schroder present fine versions. Even better are van Dael, Ronez, Kuijken, and Huggett. Mesmerizing performances are given by Wallfisch, Manze, Podger, Mackintosh, and Blumenstock. I kept listening to these five versions into the wee hours of the morning. Wallfisch, as quick as Terakado, does an outstanding job of delivering the greatest variety of expression and a beautiful interpretation with intimate support from Nicholson. Manze's very slow performance is ever so subtle and captivating.

Podger and her partner Pinnock give me a thorough sense of "home" with absolute assurance. Blumenstock's distinction is a wonderfully swirling sound of total incisiveness. Mackintosh and Cole are in perfect unison and give the most gorgeous performance of the fourteen versions. These five versions are as good as it gets.

The second movement Allegro opens with a happy and jaunty harpsichord introducing the basic theme. The music is lovely, playful, invigorating, and exciting. It's such a pleasure listening to the interaction among the three voices.

Every version is a real treat, but six stand out in my affection. Podger and Ronez have the fastest performances, and the quicker tempo lends itself very well to an exciting flow; the execution is excellent as well. I should caution that some will find the Ronez violin rather stringent. Slower in speed but possessing greater stature are Blumenstock and Wallfisch. I find Goebel and van Dael the best versions. Goebel is the most exciting and urgent. Van Dael and van Asperen work perfectly together, providing a wonderful opportunity to get caught up in the interaction of voices. They are also superbly playful and joyous.

Before moving on to the third movement of the E major, I'd like to relate the preferences that my wife currently is holding; they concern the Wallfisch and Manze sets. Every time I'm listening on my main loudspeakers to Wallfisch, she asks me how I can tolerate the noise. But with Manze, she lets me know that the music is quite beautiful and compelling. So I ask her, "But what do think of the gamba"? Her response is, "It must be a good instrument for the music". I'm sure she doesn't even hear it. The remaining versions don't seem to get her attention one way or another. Now my wife has exquisite taste, particularly in men, but her musical preferences are suspect except when she agrees with me which is hardly ever. Keep that in mind. Also, she isn't nearly as concerned about strength of projection as I am. Come to think of it, she's hated the Wallfisch ever since I bought it about 3 years ago; I think Wallfisch's violin makes a nerve in her brain vibrate which kicks in a migraine headache. That's good to know.

The third movement, Adagio ma non tanto, is sad to the core. The violin even has a bout of sobbing. Given my perceptions, I prefer versions which beautifully emphasize sadness. For me, two stand out, and two probably would have except for the harpsichord playing. John Butt is choppy for Blumenstock, and Leonhardt surprisingly too bright for Kuijken. The two standouts are Terakado's perfectly proportioned reading and Manze's highly expressive and deeply sad performance. The remaining versions are enjoyable.

The last movement Allegro conveys a great zest for life; it's perpetual activity based on a series of fast semi-quaver passages and the switching of motifs from one voice to another. The result is exciting and bewitching music of gusto and drive. Holloway/Moroney are a little too slow to convey much excitement, and they engage in some hesitations of dubious merit. van Dael, to my mind, makes a major mistake by shortening the last note of many phrases; this reduces greatly the feeling of perpetual motion. Wallfisch, Huggett, Mackintosh, Ronez, Podger, Manze, Schroder, and Biondi are very good. I do wish Biondi's tone was less sweet. Terakado's is an excellent version, although his partner Henstra is a little dour. Blumenstock is even better, possessing the best drive of all versions.

Kuijken/Leonhardt and Goebel/Hill are outstanding with a whizzing perpetual motion and full-bodied gusto for life. I feel they define this music perfectly, and their sound has a strong and rugged element.

For the Sonata in E flat major, Blumenstock's is my preferred version. Throughout, she combines a beautifully piercing tone with idiomatic interpretations. Close behind is Goebel who is superb in the fast movements. Manze is one of the better performances, and the absence of the gamba is advantageous from my perspective.

Updates: Blumenstock has a significant edge over any other version; consistently outstanding playing is hard to beat. van Dael, Kuijken, and Huggett are doing great. Ronez, Manze, and Wallfisch still hold up the rear. The fact is that every version has much to offer. Earlier today, I was listening to Terakado's which is not close to being one of the best so far. Just Terakado without comparisons, and he sounded wonderful in every movement. I'm finding that it's only in direct and immediate comparison that some versions don't quite meet the test. I am surprised about Holloway who is doing about as well as Terakado. Holloway's outstanding B minor is followed by a good A major which precedes a disappointing E major. Overall, he's much better in the slow movements, but there wasn't even much evidence of that in the E major.

Continue on Part 4

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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