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Fanfare (US) "Five stars – Bach as it should be played"

September 23, 2019

David Reznick, Fanfare

This release is a treat for the eye even before you play it and a treat for the ear (and the heart) while you’re listening. The harpsichord player, Mahan Esfahani, wrote the introductory essay; he sounds as if he’s recently been in a fight with someone who thinks that Bach’s music should be played only by the instruments he had in mind, and whose view should be changed. But he can uncurl the lip and dim the glare in his eyes: There’s hardly anybody on the other side of the argument. Bach belongs to the world, and the world can do whatever it wants. I mean, if he survived what Stokowski did to him in Fantasia, he can survive anything. The beef presented here stems from someone who apparently complained that these works were written for the flute and therefore should not be played on the recorder (as they are in this performance). Aw, come on.

There are other things to point out here. For example, I know not whether the three musicians on this CD knew each other, or have been playing together for years, or just happened to walk into the room at the same time. The fact is that these three people were fated to play Bach together. This is clearly the reason they’re all on this planet. They have that magic something-or-other that allows three people to make music with one voice. And it’s really thrilling to hear. The lead instrument is the recorder (sometimes alto, sometimes tenor). Michala Petri plays the recorder with such virtuosity, such command, such beauty of tone that I’ve never heard on records. I’m not making a study of it, but I’d wager that no one else could play these sonatas any better. Her colleagues on the harpsichord and viola da gamba are doing exactly what they should be doing, and with great distinction. They have also recorded extensively on their own, with excellent results, so this release is no surprise.
This is the sort of performance that humanizes Bach. You may not be familiar with these flute sonatas. They’re not musical monuments, the kind that Bach produced so easily. But if you want to acquire more Bach chamber music, this should be your next purchase. Rest assured you have bought the best.

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