Notes and Editorial Reviews
Joseph Swensen and John Gibbons have chosen three of Bach's Sonatas for violin and harpsichord and are joined by Elizabeth Anderson in the Sonata in G major for violin and continuo. A second volume is proposed which will complete the set as well as including, no doubt, the E minor Sonata for violin and continuo (BWV1023). The sonatas for violin and fully worked out continuo harpsichord are brilliant and inventive, making considerable technical demands on both players. On this showing I am especially impressed by the lively and incisive harpsichord playing of Gibbons. He turns in beautifully articulated performances, full of energy and little insights to the music. Swensen is hardly less fluent, though I found his faster movements sometimes
more convincing than slower ones, where intonation proves an intermittent problem.
His instrument, though contemporary with Bach's own lifetime, has nevertheless been adapted to present-day standards and his bow, too, is likewise a modern one. I would have been happy to have left it at that but Swensen himself comments, "One reason why I love to perform with John Gibbons is that with his early music background and mine in the modern tradition we get the best of both worlds, as we try to express the music from the perspective of the late 20th century". Such a premise at once invites a range of inferences to be drawn, one being that the modern violin is superior to one strung and tuned according to the practice of Bach's time. Another is that the best of both worlds is somehow preferable to the best that either one can offer on its own. In point of fact, Swensen clearly is bent on giving us the best of Bach's world on a modern violin since, apart from the matter of sound, twentieth-century technique in all but one or two instances — there are occasional portamentos — is quite severely reined in.
Perhaps all this sounds rather unimportant but my feeling is that far from having the best of both worlds the very premise prevents us from having the best of either. Even so, the results are far from displeasing, though I found some of the tempos a shade too brisk. These artists never fail to bring the music to life and as I have implied there is neither lack of virtuosity nor character in the playing. The recorded sound is warm and the acoustic effectively resonant.
-- N.A., Gramophone [4/1991]
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