Fanfare (US) "Five stars: Ensemble playing of the finest quality".
October 13, 2019
Dave Saemann, Fanfare
Playing Bach’s flute sonatas on the recorder is a most satisfying idea. It’s just the sort of change in instruments that the ever practical Bach would agree to. And who wouldn’t want to hear Michala Petri play Bach? This in fact is her second recording of these works. The earlier version featured the great jazz pianist Keith Jarrett on harpsichord. What Jarrett does on that recording is fascinating. As a composer himself, he hears things in the continuo part that most harpsichordists would gloss over. Petri is very good on the previous album. There are places, particularly in BWV 1030 and 1031, where she doesn’t seem entirely comfortable with Jarrett’s pacing. In BWV 1032 and 1033, Petri plays the soprano recorder. There’s no doubt that her mastery of it is tremendous, but I prefer the tenor recorder on the new CD in these works. Even if you possess Petri’s recording with Jarrett, I believe you’ll want to hear this new CD. Petri’s conception has matured, and she truly is the dominant force on this album. The continuo players here blend excellently with her. Having a viola da gambist in addition to a harpsichordist gives the continuo richness and inspiration. Gambist Hille Perl is a serenely beautiful player, and her tone complements Petri on alto and tenor recorders superbly. Perl and Mahan Esfahani on harpsichord mesh their sounds elegantly and with great heart. Here is formidable Bach playing that wears its laurels lightly.
Three of the sonatas have been transposed into new keys to accommodate the recorder. They sound just fine. In the three sonatas played on tenor recorder, Petri uses one type of recorder in slow movements for its expressivity and tone color, while using different tenor recorders for the fast and, as she says, “light running” movements. Mahan Esfahani’s harpsichord is copied after a 1710 model, but with a carbon fiber composite soundboard for more stable tuning and increased volume. The opening Andante of BWV 1030 is the longest movement on the disc. Its scope is truly symphonic, as the textures from wind, string, and keyboard instruments present an orchestral range of sound. Perl’s pizzicato playing here is delectable, presenting a creamy plucked tone that offers Petri an elegant background. The Siciliano of BWV 1031 may remind you a little of “Sheep May Safely Graze.” Esfahani’s playing here is especially elegant, providing a noble context for Petri’s warm rendition. The Allegro of BWV 1032 shows the performers really cooking, sending the listener’s heartbeat racing while espousing the lightest touch. In the two minuets of BWV 1033, the players choose stately tempos that recall the French Baroque. For me, BWV 1034 is the highlight of the album. In its opening movement, Perl and Petri have what’s virtually a duet accompanied by Esfahani, stressing the autumnal nature of the two ladies’ instruments. The third movement begins with a ravishing plucked solo by Perl, changing to bowed notes discreetly accompanied by Esfahani, leading to Petri’s warm yet plaintive playing alongside Perl’s heartrending sounds. BWV 1035’s Siciliano features affecting duets for Petri and Perl, displaying a kind of empathy for each other that almost is sisterly.
The stereo sound engineering is beautifully blended and slightly recessed, presenting a gorgeous chamber music atmosphere. I was unable to listen to the surround sound program. My favorite performance of these works on the modern flute is by Laurel Zucker. Michala Petri’s artistic maturation is strongly on display here. This is Bach you will return to over and over. Highly recommended.