WGBH Radio WGBH Radio theclassicalstation.org

Bach: Flute Sonatas / Elizabeth Walker


Release Date: 11/08/2011 
Label:  Quartz Records   Catalog #: 2086   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Elizabeth Walker
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Continuum (Baroque music)
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 10 Mins. 

Low Stock: Currently 3 or fewer in stock. Usually ships in 24 hours, unless stock becomes depleted.  

Notes and Editorial Reviews



BACH Flute Sonatas: in e, BWV 1034; in C, BWV 1033; in E, BWV 1035; in b, BWV 1030. Partita in a for Solo Flute, BWV 1013 Elizabeth Walker (fl); Michael Overbury (hpd); Christopher Poffley (vc) (period instruments) QUARTZ 2086 (69:42)


It Read more wasn’t until I did a little digging into the history of these Bach sonatas that I realized how much about them is still unsettled. To begin with, they were written over a 20-year period between 1720 and 1741, the very timeframe in which the recorder was being phased out in favor of the wooden transverse flute. The program note to Lisa Beznosiuk’s Hyperion recording of the flute sonatas states that after about 1725 compositions specifically for or including recorder became increasingly rare. So, Bach almost certainly intended these sonatas for the newer transverse flute and not for recorder. That’s number one, and to her credit, Elizabeth Walker on the current CD does in fact perform on a wooden transverse flute, albeit a modern one made in 1960 by Harry Seeley for the Flute Makers Guild.


Second, some of the original manuscripts to these works are lost (BWV 1034, 1035, and 1013); others are incomplete (BWV 1032, not played here, is missing 46 measures, and only the harpsichord part exists in autograph for BWV 1030); and others are either of disputed authorship (BWV 1033 and 1031, the latter not on the current disc) or of intended instrument uncertain (BWV 1030 may have been meant for oboe). So, after 250 years’ worth of reconstruction, patching, and piecing together for various performing editions by numerous hands, questions still remain over which of these works are indeed by Bach and, of those that can be authenticated, what instrument one or more of them may actually have been written for.


But there’s yet another point to be made, which Elizabeth Walker, in her own program note to this album, explains very clearly. Apart from the Partita for Solo Flute, BWV 1013, which is a one-off, the remaining sonatas come in two flavors. The Sonata in B Minor, BWV 1030, like the sonatas for violin and keyboard, has a fully written-out harpsichord part that engages with the flute in an equal partnership. This is referred to as “obbligato” sonata. Then there are those (BWV 1033–1035) that are referred to as “continuo” sonatas because their keyboard parts are but a skeletal figured bass line from which the player had to fill in the harmonies and rhythms extemporaneously. This was a skill that Baroque musicians were well trained in, but modern performing editions put the flesh on the bone, so to speak, to save the keyboard player from having to come up with his or her own realizations of the upper parts.


In the three “continuo” sonatas, cellist Christopher Poffley joins harpsichordist Michael Overbury to shore up the bass line. The note does not tell us if Poffley and Overbury (identified on the disc as “Continuum”) play their own realizations or are playing from a prepared edition, but you will immediately note the much simpler chord-like, accompanimental character of the keyboard part in these sonatas compared to the “obbligato” sonata in which the keyboard part is fully composed. Overbury does not participate in the “obbligato” sonata, though technically he could/should have, for it was common practice, even in the type of work in which the keyboardist was coequal, for a cello, gamba, theorbo, or other low-voiced instrument to reinforce the bass line.


One last technical detail about these performances: The harpsichord is not tuned to equal temperament but to the “Vallotti” standard, a tuning system common in Bach’s time. Most listeners probably won’t notice, but to my accursed “Princess-and-the-pea” ear which, for some reason, is unusually sensitive to pitch, Walker’s flute sounds just enough out of tune with the harpsichord when the two alight simultaneously on a common note and at cadence points to send a twinge through my teeth. If you happen to be extra sensitive to pitch variations, the harpsichord’s non-equal temperament tuning is something you might want to consider before acquiring this recording. Those with normal hearing needn’t be concerned.


Elizabeth Walker trained in flute, recorder, and piano at London’s Royal College of Music, following which she continued her studies in Holland with a special focus on Baroque and Classical flute. Thus far, her only other recording, a disc of flute fantasias by Telemann, would seem to make her, on record at least, a specialist in 18th-century flute music.


On the current disc, she produces a warm and mellow, if not always even, tone on her modern copy of a Baroque flute, a tone that blends agreeably with Overbury’s modern copy of a single-manual Flemish-type, Ruckers-style harpsichord, and with Poffley’s Antonio Amati cello. There are, of course, a ton of recordings of these sonatas to choose from, but the field narrows somewhat if one limits the options to performances on period instruments. Walker’s, however, is neither the only one nor necessarily the best of those I’ve heard. The aforementioned Beznosiuk is more technically secure and evenly played, though it asks a higher price for a two-disc set that includes everything Bach wrote for flute along with some things he didn’t.


Another alternative, and an incredible bargain, if you don’t mind a slightly older recording, is Harmonia Mundi’s single disc with Janet See, Davitt Moroney, and Mary Springfels. With that disc, you’ll get BWV 1034 and BWV 1032, which you won’t get on the present disc, but on the HM CD you won’t get the solo partita. So it’s a tradeoff. If you want it all, you’ll have to spring for two singles or a two-disc set because not all of the flute works will fit on a single disc. For this reason, Walker’s album gets a recommendation, but mainly as a supplement to other recordings.


FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
Read less

Works on This Recording

1.
Sonata for Flute and Basso Continuo in E minor, BWV 1034 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Elizabeth Walker (Flute)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Continuum (Baroque music)
Period: Baroque 
Written: circa 1717-1720; ?Cöthen, Germany 
Venue:  St John the Baptist's Parish Church, Pil 
Length: 13 Minutes 37 Secs. 
2.
Sonata for Flute and Harpsichord in C major, BWV 1033 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Elizabeth Walker (Flute)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Continuum (Baroque music)
Period: Baroque 
Written: Germany 
Venue:  St John the Baptist's Parish Church, Pil 
Length: 5 Minutes 39 Secs. 
3.
Sonata for Flute and Basso Continuo in E major, BWV 1035 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Elizabeth Walker (Flute)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Continuum (Baroque music)
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1717-1720; ?Cöthen, Germany 
Venue:  St John the Baptist's Parish Church, Pil 
Length: 12 Minutes 17 Secs. 
4.
Partita for Flute solo in A minor, BWV 1013 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Elizabeth Walker (Flute)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Continuum (Baroque music)
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1722–23; Germany 
Venue:  St John the Baptist's Parish Church, Pil 
Length: 14 Minutes 35 Secs. 
5.
Sonata for Flute and Harpsichord in B minor, BWV 1030 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Elizabeth Walker (Flute)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Continuum (Baroque music)
Period: Baroque 
Written: ?1738; Leipzig, Germany 
Venue:  St John the Baptist's Parish Church, Pil 
Length: 12 Minutes 16 Secs. 

Customer Reviews

Be the first to review this title
Review This Title