J.S. BACH – Sonatas for Violin and Continuo – Gottfried von der Goltz, Annakatrin Beller, Torsten Johann – Aparte 276 – 5.22 62’ ****½
In terms of looking for things that you are unlikely to find, I would put the search for missing Bach manuscripts at the top of the list. After all, it was only recently that an entire trio sonata manuscript in the hand of Buxtehude was found in an Uppsala library. But the scholarly industry in Bach has hardly been adding to the corpus of the master’s work. For every one person grubbling around in an old library looking for stray scores, there are three busy at the work of authentication of works dubiously or wrongly attributed to Bach. How the industrious Bach continued to spawn musical works well after his death is explained in the excellent liner notes to the recent release on Aparte of Gottfried von der Goltz: Bach Sonatas for Violin and Continuo.
His manuscripts and his collection got mixed up and as it was scattered mingling occurred and other works that joined the various parts, some anonymous, picked up the now creditable brand name of Bach. C.P.E Bach himself, the best custodian of all his children did his best with the well organized category but confessed that a large cabinet of “miscellaneous compositions for all kinds of instruments” proved an unsolvable conundrum. Every kind of hybrid mixed with studies, tribute to Bach, transcriptions, things from Italian composers that Bach reworked adding here and there, transposing or generally “correcting” some imperfection. How was he to make sense of this? It posed no problem to Bach himself, who would not have privileged his own work on the basis of originality ( but certainly on the other hand by his better technique). So in the end, C.P.E Bach did not really sort this stuff out and it flew to the four winds and ended up all over the place. Pseudo Bach, partial Bach and an ambiguous category called “possibly by Bach”. This latter category is most interesting. Setting aside the documentary evidence, can we tell with our ears which is Bach or not?
This is a rewarding challenge for the listener. And in this recital, only the two shorter works are stated as authentic beyond doubt; it is up to the listener to come to her own conclusions about the others. After careful listening, I think I can identify the “real” Bach in one whole work and in parts of another . And if it is really by Telemann, I apologize (in exoneration I can claim to have tried my best to boost that composer’s reputation on these very pages).
Gottfried von der Goltz is one of the leading exponents of the serious Baroque repertoire and has made a series of impressive recordings leading his talented Freiburger Barockorchester. His violin concertos are about as good as I’ve heard and his more recent recording of the solo works for violin are a triumph as well as a delectation for the most exacting audiophile. He plays a 1720 Italian violin flattered by an intimate acoustic, bathed in light. Here the violinist is teamed up with Torsten Johann playing a very big sounding harpsichord made by Titus Crijnen modeled on an 18th century Blanchet. A cello louder and more assertive than the usual viola da gamba preferred by HIP performers), skillfully handled by Annekatrin Beller, rounds out the continuo. It is almost startling how close the mike is, one hears the very digestive grumblings of the busy plectra, and can smell the rosen on the bow. One gets used to it, but it does rivet the attention.
As for the music: 6 sonatas mostly in four movements and a little fugue and Gavotte (the former is the only certain Bach piece here and pares the violin and cello in a fugal dance heavy on the middle register of the violin) . Each explained in the liner notes as to its enigmatic relationship to Bach. I quickly abandoned the notion of thinking they might be continuations of my all time favorite chamber set, the BWV 1017-1023 sonatas. Those works have distinctive adagios. C.P.E Bach remarked a generation later that none of his contemporaries could ever reach this level of cantabile expression and I would agree. Here the adagios first movements recall an inspired Telemann in their sweetness but missing is that bit of piquancy, some harmonic edge that creates more dissonance and thus more poignancy. The fast movements might pass for Bach in a peculiarly reticent mood. Bach is famous for squeezing out every musical implication in a subject and several of the Allegros and Prestos feel much less involved, rather Italianate than aligned with the remorseless harmonic argument of Bach.
One Sonata exactly seems to me an exception but I will not say which one. The liner notes don’t tip you off, but your ears might arrive at the same conclusion. Of course, none of that authentication stuff really matters that much. One can surely enjoy these outstanding performances of top notch Baroque chamber music. If the pieces got Bachified by chance in the beginning, they probably held on to their designation because of their quality.
The final piece which is widely accepted as a Telemann composition is an interesting closing piece. Supremely beautiful slow movements alternate with virtuosic passagework that clearly challenge even so gifted a fiddler as von der Goltz. The vinegary final fugue recalls some of gruesome double stops in Bach’s most difficult violin music. The continuo resolutely carry the violin through a stormy minute and a half to the final measure like a tired but faithful horse. One exhales and realizes that this is a fabulously involving and admirable recital. Highly recommended