Notes and Editorial Reviews
Flute Partita in a,
Flute Sonatas: in g,
Joshua Smith, (fl); Jory Vinikour, (hpd)
DELOS 3402 (66:21)
Even against the incredibly difficult and nearly divine Partita in
A Minor for solo flute, BWV 1013 (a relative to the partitas for unaccompanied violin), and “the greatest flute sonata ever written” (according to the late critic, Samuel Baron) BWV 1030, in B Minor, the rest of these less acclaimed sonatas (BWV 1020 in G Minor, BWV 1031 in E? Minor, and BWV 1032 in A Major) hold up pretty well in this collection titled “Flute Sonatas.” There is something about all these compositions that is intentionally minimalist in presentation: even Bach can’t get more minimalist than a solo flute. If, as is often observed, Bach’s music is concerned with either polyphony and/or harmony, stripping the performance down to a duet serves as a doorway, most cleanly cut, into his music of this period (about 1720).
If it were true that Bach’s “thought was firmly anchored in the cosmos of the old order according to which the whole phenomenal world was contained in a divine structure, and art and music were a copy of this divine order insofar as they endeavored to represent similarly perfectly organized structures analogous to the cosmos and in this way to glorify God” (Karl Kaiser, Camerata Köln), then I think Bach (as a mystic) saw as his role (as a churchman) to bring the congregation to such a concept of God by means of his music. One modern adept of Bach’s, Hèléne Grimaud, thought Bach obsessive in his mysticism, and fondly called him a “madman.” In the notes for her album, “Bach,” she wrote, “God owes a lot to Bach.”
This religious use of Bach’s pure, secular music is flawlessly presented by Joshua Smith on the flute and Jory Vinikour on the harpsichord. In Smith’s solo playing of the Partita, originally published with no breathing instructions, Smith shows an uncanny knack for understanding Bach’s phrasing, and he inhales at just the appropriate moments all the way through. This in itself is an indicator of his superior musicianship. In addition, we hear how quickly and cleanly he plays the transverse flute, his command of the instrument’s dynamics, the subtle changes in his embouchure that change tone or timbre, and the apparent ease with which he delivers the entire Partita. Jory Vinikour has an equally well-developed mastery of his harpsichord. He sometimes fades tastefully into accompaniment, offering harmonic background; or, he can pop up and trade phrases on equal terms with Smith in the “call and response” way Bach weaves into certain passages in the sonatas. This amply awarded and decorated duet seems a hand and glove arrangement, and I hope we’ll hear more from them, they are so comfortable within the Baroque structures. Relaxed, they capture the architecture of the music in its time and place with the kind of flair and delight Bach himself would have enjoyed (according to my readings).
The closest comparisons I know of are the recordings of the flute sonatas by Paula Robison (2004). It is ironic that often in the lists of recordings, many of the performances of this music are done on violin. Robison’s flute is also very lively and on target, though not quite as bumptiously delighted as Josh Smith’s flute makes me feel. This album is very special, and the players are rewarded for their élan with my highest recommendation, Oblomov’s Magic Flute award, which I have just now created and exists only in my mind—and yours.
FANFARE: Ilya Oblomov
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