Bach: Sonatas For Violin & Harpsichord Vol 1 / Dael, Asperen

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There are remarkably few differences, almost none of substance, between the performances on two recently released recordings--this one and another with Micaela Comberti and Colin Tilney on Dorian--of Bach's Six Sonatas for Violin and Harpsichord. (For comments on a third recent set, from Rachel Podger and Trevor Pinnock on Channel Classics, see reviews.) Even the first movement of the first sonata is exactly the same timing for both. Yes, Lucy van Dael's violin, at least in this sonic environment, has a somewhat richer, more resonant lower register (both instruments share the same bright timbre in their upper range), and Bob van Asperen's harpsichord is a bit rounder and warmer of tone than Tilney's. And in general, Comberti and Tilney's tempos are slower, which perhaps gives the impression of a sharper, more deliberate articulation from Tilney's harpsichord. Van Asperen's instrument is recorded slightly more distant than Tilney's, giving more prominence to van Dael's violin, which seems to go counter to Bach's intentions--these in fact are not solo sonatas per se, but trio sonatas in which the upper line of the harpsichord performs in duet with the violin, accompanied by the keyboard's bass line.


Comberti's fast movements at times sound too careful, while van Dael's have an air of frenzy about them that can produce sheer excitement (the Allegro of Sonata No. 2; the two Allegros in No. 4) or nervousness (the final movement of the first sonata), sensations that of course also will vary from listener to listener. There are exceptions: van Dael's slower Adagio in the E major sonata is exquisitely expressed, a lovely rendition of one of Bach's finest "arias", and her dashing final Allegro caps one of the set's highlights. The darker hues of van Dael's violin come into play most prominently in the C minor sonata's slow movements--the sumptuous opening Largo, whose gorgeous melody is the ancestor of "Erbarme dich" from Bach's St. Matthew Passion, and in the viola-like register of the Adagio. In contrast, Comberti's faster Largo sounds less like a song and the harpsichord's undulating figures are more noticeable, almost as if the players were consciously working to obliterate any associations with the melody's more famous religious context (there are hints of this in Tilney's detailed liner notes). Even so, Comberti and Tilney's slightly more leisurely Adagio in the same sonata is very effective, especially the rich violin tone, and here you particularly notice and appreciate the benefits to the overall sonority allowed by the Dorian recording's more even balance. Again, however, the more drawn-out final Allegro sounds merely workmanlike in comparison to van Dael's justly spirited rendition.


Two problems are solved in two different ways by the producers of each recording. First, the Sonata No. 6 went through several changes during Bach's lifetime and therefore the question arises as to how to treat the several existing alternative movements. Comberti and Tilney play the generally accepted five-movement version and add the "Cantabile" movement at the end of the disc as a separate track. Van Dael and van Asperen do the same, except that, in the interest of completeness and to fill out the disc's timing, they add three other alternative movements not found on the Dorian disc. Which brings us to the question of timing: the six sonatas are too long for one disc, too short for two. Dorian adds two "rarely played" harpsichord suites while Naxos chooses to skimp a little on the second disc's timing, which even with the added Sonata No. 6 movements comes to only 49:14. However, at Naxos' budget price, this shouldn't present a major concern even for those time-equals-value CD buyers--less is certainly not less in this case.


Needless to say, it's tough to choose a clear winner here--as so often happens, it's more a matter of personal preference, particularly regarding the instrumental balances. Both performances are top notch, cleanly and clearly articulated and characterized by an almost uncannily similar interpretive manner. I tend to prefer van Dael's singing style and richly colored instrument in the slow movements, but I also find Comberti and Tilney's equally weighted interaction provides a powerful richness to the textures that perhaps lends more legitimacy to their interpretation. Anyone for both? [Editor's note: the complete set of six sonatas on either Naxos or Dorian must be purchased in two separate volumes. The above review applies to the complete set although only volume 1 is indicated in the review heading.]
--David Vernier, ClassicsToday.com


Product Description:


  • Catalog Number: 8554614


  • UPC: 636943461426


  • Label: Naxos


  • Composer: Johann Sebastian Bach


  • Performer: Bob van Asperen, Lucy Van Dael



Works:


  1. Sonata for Violin and Harpsichord no 1 in B minor, BWV 1014

    Composer: Johann Sebastian Bach

    Performer: Bob van Asperen (Harpsichord), Lucy Van Dael (Violin)


  2. Sonata for Violin and Harpsichord no 2 in A major, BWV 1015

    Composer: Johann Sebastian Bach

    Performer: Bob van Asperen (Harpsichord), Lucy Van Dael (Violin)


  3. Sonata for Violin and Harpsichord no 3 in E major, BWV 1016

    Composer: Johann Sebastian Bach

    Performer: Bob van Asperen (Harpsichord), Lucy Van Dael (Violin)


  4. Sonata for Violin and Harpsichord no 4 in C minor, BWV 1017

    Composer: Johann Sebastian Bach

    Performer: Bob van Asperen (Harpsichord), Lucy Van Dael (Violin)


  5. Sonata for Violin and Harpsichord no 4 in C minor, BWV 1017

    Composer: Johann Sebastian Bach

    Performer: Bob van Asperen (Harpsichord), Lucy Van Dael (Violin)