Saturday 20 July 2013

Terrific performances of Bach’s sonatas for flute and harpsichord from Verena Fischer and Léon Berben on a new release from Oehms Classics

Whilst we may frown upon such practices now, it was quite normal for composers of the Baroque era to re-use their own material to rework a new piece. Indeed it was not unusual or unacceptable to ‘borrow’ ideas from other composers.

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) certainly wasn’t against such a practice, even arranging Antonio Vivaldi’s (1678 -1741) Concerto in B minor for four violins, strings and basso continuo, RV 580 as his Concerto in A minor for four harpsichords, strings and basso continuo (BWV 1065).

Bach also arranged some of his own earlier works as harpsichord concertos and arranged concertos by such composers as Benedetto Giacomo Marcello (1686-1739), Giuseppe Torelli (1658-1709), Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767), Johann Ernst of Saxe-Weimar (1696-1715) and Vivaldi into works for Clavier (BWV 972-987).

A new release from Oehms Classics entitled The Authentic Flute Sonatas includes all the solo flute sonatas known to be written by Bach, thereby excluding two flute sonatas, in E flat BWV 1031 and in C BWV 1033 that are regarded as unlikely to have been written by Bach.
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The Flute sonatas in B minor, BWV 1030, in A major, BWV 1032, in E minor, BWV 1034 and in E major, BWV 1035 that are performed here are authentic Bach though it is not known for certain when these works were written or, indeed, if they were originally written for flute, given Bach’s reuse of earlier material.

The flute sonatas BWV 1030 and 1032 were probably written between 1717 and 1723 when Bach was still at Cothen. The flute sonata, BWV 1034 was probably written between 1717 and 1724 and the flute sonata, BWV 1035 around 1741.

Performed here by Verena Fischer, who plays a transverse flute by Martin Wenner, 2010, after an original by Carlo Palanca, 1760, Turin and Léon Berben , who plays a harpsichord by Keith Hill, 2001, after an instrument by Christian Zell, 1728, Hamburg.

Both are distinguished artists, having played with Musica Antiqua Cologne under Reinhard Goebel, Fischer as solo flautist, and both having an extensive recorded catalogue.

Bach’s Sonata for flute & basso continuo in E minor, BWV 1034 opens with a stately adagio ma non tanto. What a lovely tone Verena Fischer’s flute has, a rich woody, distinctive sound. In the sparkling allegro, Fischer’s flute tone rises to a remarkably brighter sound with brilliant articulation and a terrific contribution from Léon Berben.  Fischer’s playing of the Andante has made me fall in love with this piece all over again; such is her lovely flowing performance.  A terrific final allegro, where Fischer and Berben chase each other, brings this sonata to an end. This is great playing, so full of life and fun.

The Sonata for flute and harpsichord in A major, BWV 1032 opens with a Vivace, the harpsichord having a greater role than basso continuo. As Verena Fischer enters in this joyful piece, the balance between players is ideal with a fine dialogue between players. There is a lovely, leisurely, flowing Largo e dolce with some lovely long held notes from Fischer providing some gorgeous timbres, as well as some of Bach’s little clipped phrases adding interest. A lovely touch. The brilliant Allegro is full of Bach’s overflowing invention, with the notes all but falling over each other in their enthusiasm and ebullience with great playing from Fischer and Berben.

There are some lovely characterful sounds from Fischer’s flute in the lovely little Adagio ma non tanto that opens Bach’s Sonata for flute & basso continuo in E major, BWV 1035. The following, wonderfully agile allegro, is full of momentum with nicely pointed continuo from Berben.  The appealing Siciliana, with such lovely delicate phrases from Fischer has some lovely colouring of phrases. Despite his basso continuo role, Berben gets more prominence in the finale Allegro assai. Both provide some really lively playing, beautifully done, again as though responding off each other.

The last of the authentic sonatas on this disc is the Sonata for flute & harpsichord in B minor, BWV 1030. A fairly fast flowing Andante opens this sonata, the longest movement of any of these works; it reveals again Bach’s mastery of invention wonderfully played by both artists. In the Largo e dolce Fischer certainly brings out the dolce of this movement, a fairly fast largo, with both players weaving a lovely musical thread.  Fischer and Berben give a truly virtuoso performance of the Presto, lively, hurtling along in a terrific finale, with Fischer still finding time to provide some lovely rounded sounds.

As a substantial extra, Verena Fischer gives us a superb performance of Bach’s Partita for solo flute in A minor, BWV 1013, probably written around 1720. Fischer is superb in the Allemande, showing great agility, lovely tone and superb timbres in this, one of Bach’s loveliest pieces. If anything, the Corrente is even more challenging with its rapid phrases superbly done by Fischer, whose period flute brings more lovely textures to the following Sarabande. Finally there is a wonderful, lively little Bourée Anglaise played with such agility and finesse, to conclude this disc.

Verena Fischer’s flute provides a lovely sound, rich and mellow, but never losing brilliance when needed. Both these artists give terrific performances of these lovely pieces and are given a fine recording with a nice acoustic around the players.

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