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Briefly Noted: Half-Adapted Bach Sonatas

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J. S. Bach, Gamba Sonatas (arr. for viola and harpsichord), A. Tamestit, M. Suzuki

(released on August 23, 2019)
Harmonia Mundi HMM902259 | 44'32"
Johann Sebastian Bach's three sonatas for viola da gamba and harpsichord are one of the curious delights of his catalog. The instrument, in the family of softer antecedents to the violin and relatives, was on its way out even in Bach's time. Thanks to the historical instruments movement, we now have plenty of excellent performances of these works available on the original instruments. That makes this arrangement for viola, but still accompanied by harpsichord, mostly a curiosity.

Although violist Antoine Tamestit has recorded and played some Bach in his career, he is not a musician often associated with early music. His sound here is quite luscious, using a Baroque-style bow (Arthur Dubroca, 2010) on the Stradivari viola ("Mahler," 1672) he regularly plays. He partners with harpsichordist Masato Suzuki, son of the pioneering early music conductor and keyboard player, who is carrying on his father's work with Bach Collegium Japan.

The musical chemistry is not always settled, pristinely balanced as each player solicitously makes room for the other's important lines but not always locked into place rhythmically. They present the three sonatas in reverse numerical order, which leaves the best, the G major sonata, for last. Besides the gorgeously rendered third movement, one of Bach's simplest and most moving, what the duo gives a charming surprise to the end of the first movement, which unwinds like a clock at the end of its spring. A single movement, an arrangement of the aria “Ergieße dich reichlich” from the cantata Wo soll ich fliehen hin (BWV 5), is the runaway favorite of the disc.

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