BACH: Flute Sonatas in b, BWV 1030; in g, BWV 1020, in E-flat, BWV 1031; in A, BWV 1032; Partita for solo flute, BVW 1013 – Joshua Smith, flute/ Jory Vinikour, harpsichord – Delos

by | Dec 1, 2009 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

BACH: Flute Sonatas in b, BWV 1030; in g, BWV 1020, in E-flat, BWV 1031; in A, BWV 1032; Partita for solo flute, BVW 1013 – Joshua Smith, flute/ Jory Vinikour, harpsichord – Delos 3402, 66:21 **** [Distr. by Naxos]: 

If you love flute you have to love these sonatas, and if you love Bach you have to love these sonatas, so a lot of us are already caught. If you don’t know these works, this is as good a place to start as any, though critical opinion in this particular windy realm is rather severe.

There are a lot of things that go into this opinion, from period to non-period performance, modern instrument performance, modern instrument on period style, metal versus wooden flutes, transverse flutes versus modern ones, vibrato versus non-vibrato, continuo versus non-continuo, you name it. I’m getting tired already; perhaps one day we will simply get back to “good performance versus bad one”. In the meantime—excellent performances, slightly dominant harpsichord due to a wooden flute played at modern pitch with vibrato though judiciously used, no continuo, mainstream tempos, carefully thought-out articulations, reasonable playing time though at least one more sonata (BWV 1033 or 1034?) would have fit easily.

Joshua Smith has been head honcho in the Cleveland Orchestra’s flute section for some time now (early nineties) and knows what he is doing. His wooden flute is a lovely instrument for this music, non-assertive yet not too docile either, though like I said, a little subservient to the well-played harpsichord even though the performers in the notes to this release think they have solved this problem. I don’t, though I daresay that it is not as much of a problem as they or I thought—we don’t really know how this was done in Bach’s day, and undoubtedly he had his own solutions. Recording techniques can artificially solve this, but thankfully this wasn’t applied here and we get what sounds like a very realistic reproduction of what went down. I like the reticence that Smith brings to the music; it allows his woody tone to sing unalloyed and unconcerned with anything else except the melodic line, and Bach is always about melody.

There are of course many alternatives. My main fave is the one on Gallo by Turkish flutist Sefika Kutluer (that one has continuo), a woman who has as lush and splendid a sound as anyone I know (Sharon Bezaly included) and used it to good effect. Not everyone likes that kind of forward flute in their Bach, so some might gravitate towards Ashley Solomon on Channel Classics instead (period instruments). This current release seems a nice middle ground, and even if it is an only recording you can probably live happily. Probably. Scratch that—get the Kutluer. But as this one contains the wonderful unaccompanied Sonata in a, you’ll need this too.

— Steven Ritter

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