J. S. Bach: Sonatas BWV 525, 527–530

Jan Van Hoecke recorders, Jovanka Marville harpsichord & fortepiano
Alpha 237

There have been various attempts over the years to rediscover the “original” versions of the six sonatas that have come down to us as trios for organ (BWV525–530); these have ranged from relatively simple transcriptions of the three lines for two violins, a bass stringed instrument that can cover the low notes not available to the violins and continuo, to interpretations using a broad palette of instrumental colours and combinations.

Personally I favour the former approach, even if every “solution” (which pre-supposes that there ever was a problem) involves a compromise of some sort. So too with this present recording featuring Jan Van Hoecke on no fewer than five instruments (including two in one work!), while the second melodic line and the accompanying bass are covered by Jovanka Marville on copies of a 1726 Zell harpsichord and a 1749 Silbermann fortepiano. Both are clearly relvant to Bach, and it is interesting to hear them in any context. According to the notes, only BWV 527 remains in its original key (D minor); I am puzzled that BWV525 (originally in E flat) was transposed up a tone, but then played on an instrument in the original key, but I expect there was some practical reason for the choices made (and I’m sure that Bach’s own musicians would have been faced with making such pragmatic decisions all the time!) The playing is excellent and the recorded sound everything we expect from Alpha; personally, though, I would not wish this to be my only version of the sonatas (there’s one missing, for a start) – even with the different makes and pitches of recorders, I’m afraid I need a more varied sound.

Brian Clark