Notes and Editorial Reviews
Sonatas for Viola da Gamba and Basso: in G,
; in D,
; in g,
. Chorale Preludes from the
“Jesu meine Freude,” BWV 610; “Vom Himmel hoch,” BWV 606; “Gottes Sohn is kommen,” BWV 600; “In dir ist Freude,” BWV 615; “Der Tag, der ist so freudenreich,” BWV 605; “Herr Christ, der ein’ge Gottes Sohn,” BWV 601; “Vom Himmel kam der Engel Schar,” BWV 607; “Herr Gott, nun schleufz den Himmel
auf,” BWV 617
Jan Vogler (vc); Martin Stadtfeld (pn)
SONY 88697575192 (54:27)
The three sonatas for viola da gamba and basso composed by Johann Sebastian Bach probably during the last year or so he spent in Weimar are repertoire staples, both for early-music practitioners and for performers on modern instruments, such as the viola or the cello. As such they are almost required repertoire and there is a plethora of recordings, both on period instruments and modern, available in the catalog. This particular rendition introduces cellist Jan Vogler and pianist Martin Stadtfeld in another of those attempts to reenvision these venerable works in an unusual and perhaps even unique way. As the rather perfunctory booklet notes state: “Performing these three works on the cello and piano has long since become established as an alternative that combines knowledge of performing practice in Bach’s time with the striving for tonal expression that has analytical clarity [that] benefits the dialogue character of these sonatas.” All right, one supposes, as a generic goal, but it is clear that this particular recording seems more the result of a discussion between the two performers than one more attempt to find a unique reconfiguration of conventional and well-known pieces. Since the three works are short, the two chose a selection of chorale preludes from Bach’s
to fill out the disc. And of course, having these performed by the cello/piano duo presents another take on the short practical pieces that Bach attempted to write for the entire liturgical year (he only finalized 46 out of an intended 164 chorales). As they say, they were “taking up the challenge of reproducing on their instruments Bach’s compositional technique that varies between festive splendor and intimate melancholy.” I suppose that is enough to link these various pieces to the gamba sonatas, but to my ear they come off more like encores than the sort of experiment proposed.
I’ve always considered the gamba sonatas to be good if typical representatives of the early 17th-century German style. Two of the works are in the typical four-movement format, while the last, BWV 1029 in G Minor, reflects a more modern three-movement pattern typical of the Italian secular style just coming into vogue. Bach is quite adept at the intricate spinning out of his main themes in the fast movements, altering the motives just enough to provide interest and weaving the continuo and solo lines in subtle ways that avoid mechanical repetition. One hears echoes of the short didactic works from the
Anna Magdalena Notebook
in the second movement of the G Major, while the Andante of the D Major could have come straight out of a Vivaldi concerto. (It is interesting to note that around this time Bach was angling for another position at Cöthen and studying Vivaldi intensely.) The first movement of the G Minor could almost be a replacement for
6, with close thematic similarities abounding. In short, these are solidly composed and well worth having in one’s collection of Baroque chamber music.
The issue that surrounds this disc is really that it is yet another recording on modern instruments, when so many fine examples of the works on period instruments can be found. I don’t propose to reopen what has to be a real can of worms here, but let me state right out that while idiomatic performances do bring out much of the sound world Bach originally created in these sonatas, he at least would not have particularly objected to their being performed on whatever was available at the time. Moreover, from the benefit of almost three centuries of instrumental development, these still resonate, whether on period instruments or modern. Both Vogler and Stadtfelt are fine performers. Their execution of the sonatas is clean and finely nuanced. Yes, there is more than a little bit of modern vibrato and resonant tone, but because they are rather equally matched, this gives their performance a rounded sound that brings out some of the technical subtleties of the composition. Sometimes they do miss an occasional beat; for example, in the Adagio of the G-Minor Sonata the cello
mezza di voce
is bland, not at all the resonant increasing vibrato that the sustained tone calls for, but by and large these are decent performances. The only rather weak areas are the chorale preludes. These, unfortunately, do not “vary between festive splendor and intimate melancholy,” but rather sound sort of like background music one might find in a romance film. They are universally romantic in their performance, and neither of the players really has a sense of what these things were supposed to do in real life. They would be good encores after particularly rousing applause, but they don’t really belong with the gamba sonatas. The final word on this disc is that these are all right, especially if you are a budding cellist who has contemplated your own performance of the sonatas. Period-instrument devotees will find this yet another anathema, but if you take it in the spirit of presenting a collaboration between two relatively new names in the field, then you might want to add this to your collection.
FANFARE: Bertil van Boer
If Bach's viola da gamba and harpsichord sonatas played on the cello and piano hold appeal, then you'll very likely enjoy these direct, clear-lined, slightly dry, yet intelligently interactive and texturally contrasted performances. Jan Vogler applies vibrato discreetly, yet never sacrifices tonal values in the process. Vogler's haunting, alto-like timbre above the staff weaves aural magic in slower movements and in the chorale-prelude transcriptions that bookend the sonatas. With the ghost of Glenn Gould gently hovering above, Martin Stadtfeld's dry-point articulation, rhythmic incisiveness, and sparkling trills significantly contribute to the mix (incidentally, Sony ought to release Stadtfeld's excellent Goldberg Variations in the U.S.). The cover photo seems less worthy of Bach than of Saturday Night Fever.
--Jed Distler, ClassicsToday.com
Works on This Recording
Jesu meine Freude, BWV 753 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Jan Vogler (Cello),
Martin Stadtfeld (Piano)
Notes: Arranged for cello and piano
Gottes Sohn ist kommen, BWV 703 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Jan Vogler (Cello),
Martin Stadtfeld (Piano)
Written: 1708-1717; ?Weimar, Germany
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