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Bach is Next to Godliness, the Flute Not

available at Amazon
J.S.Bach, Flute Sonatas, and lots of them,
M.Piccinini, Brasil Guitar Duo

In the documentary “A Year in the Life of the St. Thomas Boys Choir” (an essay about it forthcoming in the next issue of Listen Magazine), Christoph Biller, the 16th Thomanercantor since Bach, says that God can’t be known (hence faith), but he can be felt—in Bach. Bach—and I agree wholehearted, although “without invisible means of support” myself—is next to Godliness. Part of what makes Bach stand apart is that deep, quasi-spiritual sense one gets from his music… a feeling Romain Rolland might have described as “oceanic”: A sense of rightness, universal like a mathematical proof.

Bach-Kurtág, Sonatina from "Gottes Zeit" BWV 106 (excerpt), Duo Koroliov, Tacet 192

The other part is that there is no bad Bach and you—well, I—can’t overdose on the music. It’s just always good… a vacation for the ears, a respite for the soul. Always? Well, not quite always. There is an exception, and that’s the Flute Sonatas. Those bore my head off.

Bach, Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme BWV140 (excerpt), Wolfgang Dimetrik, Gramola 98945

The core of the Flute Sonatas consists of: BWV1030-1032, three sonatas for recorder and (maybe) harpsichord, BWV1033-1035, three sonatas for recorder and basso continuo, the Partita for traverse flute. You can also squeeze in Sonata BWV1020, which is really written for violin and harpsichord, and not really by J.S.Bach (now attributed to C.P.E.Bach—just as there are questions about whether C.P.E. might not have had a hand in BWV1031 and 1033, as well). Whether it is the actual or possible meddling, or the fact that the (frankly easily tedious) flute is involved, these pieces—even the lone positive standout BWV1030—can cure severe insomnia. But just as they are an exception to Bach, there is an exception to the flute sonata-rule. And that’s a 2010 recording that treats these sonatas just a wee bit differently.

Bach-d’Albert, Passacaglia BWV582 (excerpt), Piers Lane, hyperion 67709

Marina Piccinini1 is the flutist, which is a good start. But what makes all the difference is the assignment of the keyboard and continuo parts to guitarists: alternating between João Luiz and Douglas Lora, the young men who make up the Concert Artists Guild-graduated Brasil Guitar Duo2.

Bach, “Erschallet, ihr Lieder”, BWV172 (excerpt), C.Biller / Thomaner Chorus, Rondeau 4026 67709

This injects a liveliness into the music, and enables or fosters or reveals (whatever it is) a kind of engaging interaction among the musicians that listening. It might not turn this side of Bach into my go-to repertoire, but it makes it eminently enjoyable to listen to—at long last. So much, I’m even willing and nearly eager to give the new Andrea Oliva-Angela Hewitt a try and see if they might not come up with something entertaining. It won’t be easy, now that the bar has been raised so considerably by Piccinini her Brasilian buddies.

Bach, Sonata in C major, BWV1033 (excerpt), Marina Piccinini, Avie 2196

1 Googling myself, I found out thatI had reviewed Mme. Piccinini (a Peabody faculty member) in a 2004 performance at the Terrace Theater. (“If beauty is still anathema to serious modern classical music, the Left Bank Concert Society's program … was a complete failure… Apparently flutists are either very grateful or very desperate for new music…”)

2 I encountered that Duo while researching Concert Artists Guild for Fanfare and WETA articles, and had the following to say: “Some of the most entertaining pieces—especially Paulo Bellinati’s “Bom Partido”—can be found on the disc of that title, performed by the young João Luiz and Douglas Lora who are the Brasil Guitar Duo. At 30 minutes run-time, the nine amuse-bouche tracks make for an intriguing Bom Partido-sampler… not surprisingly, they sell like hotcakes at concerts, I am told.”