Edition Bachakademie Vol 122 - Violin & Harpsichord Sonatas

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(Review of Hänssler CD 98154)

I begin with the unfashionable suggestion that there is still much to be said for having these wonderful works played on a (relatively) modern violin – especially by someone of Dimitry Sitkovetsky’s stature. Not that Sitkovetsky treads an old-world ‘virtuoso’ route in Bach, that is, with intense vibrato and portamento to the fore (although I’ll brazenly admit to loving that too). Here, the tone is bright, intonation spot on, vibrato intelligently graded, the top line sweet but never saccharine and the phrasing subtly influenced by the ‘period performance’ school – or so it seems. Robert Hill’s harpsichord playing is pert and supple, often more prominent than the violin line (the harpsichord part in any case holds much of the musical interest) and very well recorded. There are numerous subtle differences between his approach as heard on this 1996 recording and on the Archiv set that he made in the early-1980s with period-violinist Reinhard Goebel. There, the violinist’s contribution was deft, lithe and keenly attenuated, the harpsichord balanced even more closely to the microphones and Hill’s overall approach more emphatic, less colourful and frequently slower than it has since become. Both are, in their very different ways, superb, although readers averse to the astringent tones of a period violin will naturally gravitate to the newer recording.

The First Sonata is credited as being in B major on Hanssler and B minor on Archiv but, in actuality, although both sets quote identical keys elsewhere, all emerge as significantly lower in pitch on Archiv than on their Hanssler successors. Furthermore, Sitkovetsky presents the Sixth Sonata in its final version, whereas Goebel plays BWV1019a, which – aside from including some different music – omits the delightful solo-harpsichord third movement Allegro and ends with a reprise of the heady Presto that opens the work. The final version’s closing Allegro quotes music from Bach’s Wedding Cantata.

As to comparisons, Arthur Grumiaux’s tonally distinctive and warmly phrased 1978 Philips recordings with Christiane Jaccottet come closest to Sitkovetsky’s in terms of overall style, though Sitkovetsky’s approach is more ‘modern-authentic’ than Grumiaux’s, and Hill’s harpsichord playing more imaginative than Jaccottet’s. Grumiaux’s recordings are currently available on a bargain-price, slimline Philips Duo set and are well worth hearing, but Sitkovetsky and Hill are among the front runners in the digital field.'

-- Gramophone [Awards Issue 1997]

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: 92122

  • UPC: 040888212225

  • Label: SWR Music

  • Composer: Johann Sebastian Bach

  • Performer: Dmitri Sitkovetsky, Robert Hill