The Consort (UK) Though embracing elements of historically informed performance, the sonatas presented here can also be considered as 'modern' readings.
June 7, 2021
J. S. Bach's fluent and effective writing for wind instruments generally, and the recorder in particular, is revealed most extensively in his cantatas. In his extant chamber and orchestral music, however, wind instruments feature relatively infrequently. For the recorder, its inclusion in Brandenburg Concertos nos. 2 and 4 is the total. With Purcell too, his evident affinity with the recorder is to be found almost entirely in his operas, odes and symphony songs. How different the situation in the music of Telemann, Handel and many of their contemporaries. The recorder is present throughout their works, but its inclusion in their chamber music, a significant amount of which was published in their own lifetimes, is at the core of the baroque repertoire enjoyed by recorder players today, and it is frustrating that no such repertoire by Bach has come down to us.
During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, instrumentation was less prescriptive, and a considerable amount of chamber music was published as playable on violin, flute or oboe. An overall range that suited the compass of each could be accommodated, but this frequently descended below the alto (treble) recorder's lowest note (F above middle C). It was therefore a common practice for recorder players to transpose such repertoire upwards by a minor third (if played on a recorder in D using alto recorder fingering, it remained in the original key). Telemann even published duets in which a series of clef and key signatures enabled the use of pairs of flutes, recorders or viols. Tenor recorders in C existed during the period and had the same compass as the baroque oboe, but its repertoire is so smal! that it was probably used to play music that didn't fit the range of the alto recorder.
Players of baroque wind instruments in our own time have had to bring both ingenuity and practicality to adapting the surviving chamber music of J. S. Bach to suit their own instruments. This frequently employs practices that Bach would have recognized and accepted, particularly transposition, which was often necessary to accommodate the difference in pitches used for church and chamber music. The Sonatas in three parts composed for his son Wilhelm Friedmann to play on the organ have proved a particularly fruitful source of music, but the flute sonatas undoubtedly! end themselves to performance on recorder, the difference in timbre between the baroque flute and the recorder is surprisingly narrow.
Michala Petri 's present performance on the recorder of Bach's six extant flute sonatas has been carefully considered, employing elements discussed above, and together with Hille Perl and Mahan Esfahani (whose informative booklet notes include thoughts on the oft-raised question of the authenticity of BWV I 031 and 1033), provide an entirely convincing result. Interestingly, it is only in BWV 1034 that an upward minor third transposition (from E minor to G minor) has been employed. 1bree sonatas have been retained in their original keys: BWV 1030 in B minor is played on an alto recorder. BWV 1031 in E flat major, and BWV 1033 in C Major both transfer comfortably to a tenor recorder. BWV 1032 is also played on a tenor recorder but transposed up a tone to G major. An upward semitone transposition to F major on alto recorder is made for BWV 1035.
The six sonatas fall into two groups: the first three are played with obbligato harpsichord (as in the violin sonatas BWV 1014-19 plus the gamba sonatas BWV 1027-9), while the remaining three are performed with the more conventional basso continuo. Here, the gamba is included, as would be expected, but it is also played with the obbligato harpsichord in BWV 1030-32. This adds weight to the bass line but, in what is essentially a three-part texture, the harpsichord right hand is on occasions a little obscured. This is somewhat frustrating, especially as the impressive sounding instrument (by Jukka Ollikka, inspired by a harpsichord of 1710 by Michael Mietke, including a 16-foot register) has a carbon fibre composite soundboard which, the booklet notes inform us, makes it louder than an instrument made with traditional materials.
This quibble apart, the overall sound of the ensemble is of considerable elegance, enhanced by the impressive acoustic of Garrisons Kirke, Copenhagen. Hille Perl's viola da gamba, made by Matthias Alban in 1686, is both resonant and delicate. Michala Petri plays three different tenor recorders: a Moeck developed by Ralf Ehlert, used mainly in slow movements, and two different Moeck Rottenburgh models in fast movements. Two alto recorders are used: a Moeck Ehlert and a Mollenhauer of modem design. There is a consistency and clarity of timbre, but the more contemporary models enable a greater dynamic range.
Though embracing elements of historically informed performance, the sonatas presented here can also be considered as 'modern' readings. This is in no way intended as a criticism: the playing is impeccable, and the music is presented with a contemporary immediacy that also successfully captures the abiding spirit of the baroque. Andrew Mayes, The Consort, 08.06.2021