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Sonatas for Violin & Harpsichord BWV 1014-1019

Bach’s Sonatas for Violin & Harpsichord, Part 4

Continue from Part 3

Donald Satz wrote (February 18, 2001):
Sonata in C minor BWV 1017 - I believe I've written with some regularity of the intensity of sadness in the slow movements of these sonatas. The first movement Largo of the C minor Sonata just might be the saddest movement in the set. The violin sets the level of sadness and needs close support from the two harpsichord voices. Slow performances are in the 4 1/2 minute range, quick ones about 4 minutes. Kuijken stretches out the movement to 5 minutes; sadness is replaced to a degree by sluggishness. The other version not very enjoyable comes from Manze. His strength of projection is sometimes anemic as if he was leaving the room. This is a case of "fade out", not subtlety. Switch to Biondi and experience great projection.

Excellent versions are from Biondi and Huggett who display a very intense sadness; their partners are right in step. The outstanding issues are provided by Ronez and Podger. Ronez is stark while Podger is rich. Their common bond is a subtlety in their interpretations that opens up the music and gives it another dimension. The remaining versions are fine. Blumenstock plays wonderfully, but at 3 1/2 minutes, she's just too fast; also, John Butt is quite choppy.

The second movement Allegro begins with just the harpsichord's upper register providing a jaunty and demonstrative theme; then the violin and the harpsichord's lower voice join the festivities. The music has great vitality which a worthy performance needs to capture.

There are six good versions which still don't compare well to the other eight issues: Huggett and van Dael (under-projection), Biondi (romantic tone), Holloway (vitality), Wallfisch (tempo), and Manze (no projection). Wallfisch and Nicholson, about 1'38" into the movement screw up the tempo and have trouble staying in-sync for about 5 seconds; this definitely needed a re-take. Manze does well except that for three seconds at about 48" into the music, it sounds as if there are no violin notes (but there are). Where is he? Manze has now taken me from low projection to no projection - can he achieve 'negative projection'?

Among the excellent performances, Gustav Leonhardt and Robert Hill are the stars of their respective issues; each is loaded with vitality and a vivacious style. Terakado/Henstra give a role-model interpretation. Mackintosh and Podger are just a smidgen less effective than Terakado. Ronez/Kubitschek provide an infectious rhythm. I should caution that Ronez's violin is very sharp, definitely a problem for those allergic to the baroque violin. Blumenstock again sounds great, although John Butt is a little too choppy.

The outstanding reading comes from Jap Schroder. An attractive degree of elegance has been a mainstay of his performances in this set, and that element pays major dividends in the Allegro. Also, his projection and vitality are superb. His partner, Helga Ingolfsdottir, shares Schroder's elegant approach.

The third movement Adagio is relaxed and comforting music which every version excels in. There are three which rise above the rest; Huggett, van Dael, and Blumenstock. Huggett is elegant and highly expressive, van Dael stately and perfectly proportioned. Blumenstock provides the music's magic. She tells a conversational story with gorgeous tonal beauty and a wealth of expression. Give yourself a treat and listen to Blumenstock who gets great support from John Bull. Actually, I thought all the keyboard players did fine work.

The last movement is an Allegro of perpetual and exciting motion with masterful violin writing and interaction among the voices. I find that the perpetual/exciting element starts to fade when the time of performance gets close to five mintues. This is the case with Blumenstock, Schroder, Ronez, Huggett, Kuijken, van Dael, and Holloway. Schroder and Kuijken have the additional disadvantage of some weak projection. That's a shame for the Kuijken version because Leonhardt is wonderful.

Terakado and Manze are sufficiently swift, but Terakado is a bit cosmopolitan for this country music. Manze starts off with strong projection but he later sags and even engages in the "odd pause". Kuijken is also swift but doesn't project well. Wallfisch gives the fastest performance, and it's somewhat disjointed.

Biondi, Mackintosh, and Podger provide outstanding interpretations. Each is a role-model for perpetual motion and delivers great violin projection and expressiveness. With this superb performance, Podger and Pinnock give the best C minor; Ronez and Blumenstock are not far behind.

Update: Blumenstock continues to tighten her grip on having the best recording; she is far ahead of any other version. The best of the rest have been Huggett, Podger, van Dael, and Kuijken. Manze and Wallfisch continue to hold up the rear. I'm finding myself bewildered by the lack of attack often characterizing Manze's performances. He could take a few lessons from Blumenstock or Biondi.

Continue on Part 5

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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