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Fanfare (US) "What we have here is a performance that is outstanding, lending a new vision to how Bach might be interpreted".

November 14, 2019

Bertil van Boer - Fanfare USA

There can be no doubt that recorder player Michala Petri holds one of the pre-eminent positions as one of the most prolific and talented performers on the instrument. Her work spans many years and a discography that is quite monumental. Moreover, she has a repertory that ranges from the early Baroque to jazz, using the recorder as a medium for a new sound world. It is therefore with some anticipation that I received this disc of Johann Sebastian Bach’s equally well-known and iconic flute sonatas, performed with a continuo consisting of Mahan Esfahani on the harpsichord and Hille Perl on viola da gamba.

First, it should be noted that Bach’s original sonatas, if we can call the six pieces original in every sense, were meant most likely for flauto traverso, or the flute. Although the tern flauto generically referred to the recorder, Bach writes idiomatically for the traverso. This does not mean, however, that he would have objected to the recorder or any other instrument performing them, as there was considerable flexibility in terms of performance practice at the time. Moreover, the works may well have had forerunners and been transposed to their current state. Thus, the G-Minor Sonata, BWV 1034, was originally in E Minor, BWV 1035 in E Major and done here in F, and BWV 1032 in A but here in G. While these suit the change in instruments, they are by no means a practice foreign to Bach, who regularly did such alterations. Finally, there is the case of the C-Major and E♭-Major Sonatas, where questions of authenticity remain. In terms of style, they are Bachian in a fashion, but the format and use of harmony seems rather galant, especially in the first movements. There are, however, some nice Bachian trademarks in areas such as the rolling accompaniment and use of sequences, as well as the typical Baroque cadential structures, that are consistent with his late style in the latter. The C-Major too has more of a Baroque feel, particularly in the structure, as well as the flowing sequences of the opening movement and the short perfunctory Presto with its virtuoso recorder line above a sustained bass. The second Allegro is a bit of Telemann, but not unlike Bach, perhaps because it seems more like it was taken from some suite. The same can be said for the genteel minuet. I would postulate that these pieces may in a typical Bach manner incorporate glosses on other works; in the C-Major it would be a piece by Christoph Förster, whose music was certainly known by the Leipzig composer. As for the E♭, there may be some small quirks that indicate a more modern composer such as Johann Quantz, but the sources themselves are solidly in Bach’s corner, being by his son and favorite pupil Christian Friedrich Penzel.
The main question here is how the music fares under the transpositions (one should probably not go down the road of arrangement). The answer is: excellently. Petri’s tone is clear, bright, and she has a wonderful knack for bringing out the nuances in Bach’s music perfectly. This is generally no easy task, but her phrasing is precise, and she chooses tempos that allow the music to speak without being too fast or too slow. The harpsichord playing by Esfahani is likewise well adapted to blend with the recorder, and yet emerge on its own, such as in the B-Minor Sonata, BWV 1030, where the harpsichord and recorder perform a delicate contrapuntal duet in the third movement. The gamba is a bit discrete, as it should be, though it provides a sound and often solid foundation. In short, this is one fine recording. There are many out there that feature the flute, but as an excellent alternative, one should explore this disc. What we have here is a performance that is outstanding, lending a new vision to how Bach might be interpreted.5 Stars

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