Bach Gamba Sonatas on Orfeo

2007-07-21 / Ottawa Citizen / Richard Todd

Pianist, cellist make superb team

J. S. Bach: Gamba Sonatas

Daniel Müller-Schott, cello; Angela Hewitt, piano (Orfeo)

Angela Hewitt is widely considered the finest of the world’s Bach pianists, an opinion that cannot be confirmed objectively, but one that is plausible from many points of view. The fact that J. S. Bach never wrote anything for the piano is hardly an impediment since Hewitt has always found things in the music that can’t be expressed on the harpsichord, all the while preserving the integrity of the repertoire as the composer wrote it.

She has found a worthy colleague in cellist Daniel Müller-Schott, not only because he’s a superb Bach interpreter, but because he comes to these pieces, as Hewitt does, with an instrument other than what the composer had in mind. The viola da gamba was rapidly passing out of vogue in Bach’s time, and these glorious sonatas are perhaps the last major works written for the instrument. Cellists have been playing them for many years, though since the authentic performance movement got momentum three or four decades ago gamba performances have not been unusual.

In fact, the impression you may have at the very beginning of this CD as the G Major Sonata gets underway, is that Müller-Schott is playing an unusually full-bodied viola da gamba. He’s not. It’s definitely a cello, but he plays it with virtually no vibrato and exquisite attention to baroque-style phrasing.

Here they arrive at a convincing consensus as to what the music has to say, but that is only their starting point. Playing to each other’s formidable strengths, they achieve something luminous, almost aching in its beauty and wisdom. The G major and D major are especially profound in their elegance and understanding.

The CD is rounded out by Carl Philipp Emanual Bach’s Sonata in D Major, a slighter piece, no doubt, but played with consummate finesse.

Hewitt and Müller-Schott will open the Ottawa Chamber Music Festival today at 8 p.m. with a concert at Dominion-Chalmers United Church. Their program will include Bach, Beethoven, de Falla and Franck.