Bach Gamba Sonatas on Orfeo

2007-10-10 / Gramophone / Lindsay Kemp

‘Vivid Bach playing that gives nothing but a glow of pleasure’

From the moment the cello starts its suave tread over the piano’s gently rising bass and sustained right-hand trill at the beginning of the G major Sonata, you know this is going to be a disc to sit back and enjoy. Daniel Muller-Schott and Angela Hewitt may have substituted modern instruments for the viola da gamba and harpsichord Bach had in mind but nothing in this superb music’s original character has been lost – this is as clear-textured and as vividly articulated a performance as you could hope to hear. Indeed, it has gained much by the sheer musical feeling and intelligence that these two players have put into it, aided by extra warmth from Muller-Schott’s cello (achieved without resorting to excessive vibrato) and from the delicate dynamic subtleties of Hewitt’s piano-playing.

There are some memorable moments here: the rapt mystery of the upward arpeggios in the third movement of the G major, the exquisitely intertwined lyricism of the D major’s first movement, the stealthy fugal build-up in the finale of the G minor. Architecturally, too, they consistently get things just right – just listen to the way the main themes’ returns are handled in the last movements of the G major and D major (the latter a triumphant outcome of Bach’s thrilling quasi-cadenza passage). With a perfect balance between instruments, this is playing which gives nothing but a glow of pleasure, that not even what sounds like some weary tuning at the piano’s top can dispel.

All Bach gamba sonata discs need a filler, and the choice here is a sonata by CPE Bach, rather more romantically drawn by Muller-Schott and with a continuo accompaniment less well suited to the piano. But then this disc is worth your money for the JS alone.