Notes and Editorial Reviews
Bylsma draws a ravishing sound from his instrument often with profoundly affecting results. He is a veritable poet and van Asperen provides a sensitive, tasteful partnership
For many years Bach's three sonatas for viola da gamba and concertante harpsichord have been regarded by cellists as fair game. Now, the Dutch virtuoso cellist Anner Bylsma takes up the challenge not with a baroque or modern instrument but with a violoncello piccolo, an instrument for which Bach showed some fondness in his Leipzig cantatas. There was probably no standard violoncello piccolo in Bach's day but we might say that in general it was smaller than a cello with a fifth string which widened upwards its tessitura. Bylsma's instrument dates
from c. 1700. Banished, too, in these interesting experiments is the harpsichord for which a pleasingly bright chamber organ has been substituted.
So far, so good, perhaps, but I am much less happy with some of the arguments put forward by Bylsma to justify his approach. One such is simply that Bach "ceased writing works explicitly for the gamba in the second half of his life, specifying other instruments instead"—a poor argument at the best of times but in this case without substance since it is very likely that at least one of the gamba sonatas does belong to the second part of Bach's life. Furthermore, the categorical assertion given here that the three works were written in COthen in 1720 has long been invalid. Bylsma's belief that Bach's versions for gamba and harpsichord— admittedly only one of them has survived in autograph—work less well than the solution offered here is, at least questionable. In addition, he adds, "compared to the gamba, the cello piccolo is better suited to play sonatas, as it is a member of the violin family". At that point I decided to close the booklet and just listen to the performances. They are, as we might expect from such an accomplished artist, very good indeed. Bylsma draws a ravishing sound from his instrument often with profoundly affecting results. They are, however, quite at variance with those which Bach intended, for not only is the instrumentation different but so, too, is the pitch. Little of the eloquence in Bach's writing in point of fact is lost but the colours are brighter and our senses respond accordingly. Not everything comes over with equal conviction and I found, for example, the beautiful opening Adagio of the too often underrated D major Sonata disappointing in its jerky, almost perfunctory progress.
Having so far done little but protest I am inclined to end on a positive note. These experiments, and that is what they are, have considerable charm in the hands of such gifted players as these; and, in addition a recording of one of J.C.F. Bach's two cello sonatas is welcome. It is lightweight but effectively written and delightfully performed music. Bylsma is a veritable poet and I know I shall want to hear the sound of his playing on this disc from time to time. Bob van Asperen provides a sensitive, tasteful partnership and the recorded sound is excellent. An unusual issue.
-- Gramophone [3/1991]
Works on This Recording
Be the first to review this title