“A Cembalo certato e Violino solo”

Bach, Scheibe, Graun, Schaffrath, Telemann
Philippe Grisvard, Johannes Pramsohler
208:45 (3 CDs in a card box)
Audax Records ADX13783

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The standard description of this genre, for obbligato harpsichord with solo violin, underlines the true democracy at work in the earliest compositions for solo violin and keyboard. While Bach only wrote one set of six such sonatas (BWV114-9), recorded here in its entirety, his complete mastery of the form is striking – as so often in the master’s life his concentration on specific genres reflects demand rather than the composer’s ability or interest. Two further such works BWV 120 and 122 are attributed to Bach, and being of equally fine quality are probably his. In recording all of these pieces, harpsichordist Philippe Grisvard and violinist Johannes Pramsohler would easily have overrun a standard CD, but they go the extra mile here by recording 3 full CDs including a selection of such sonatas by Bach’s contemporaries. Notwithstanding the rather intense gaze of the two performers from the front of the booklet, these are performances packed with wit, ingenuity and imagination, technically stunning and wonderfully engaging. This is reflected in the more informal photos throughout the booklet! Grisvard plays a 2020 copy by Matthias Griewisch of an original harpsichord by Michael Mierke of Berlin of around 1710, while Prahmsohler plays a Rogeri vilolin of 1713. Both instruments sound to me just about perfect for this repertoire, and are played with enormous authority here. The works by Telemann and CPE Bach are predictably very fine, but perhaps the big surprise are the premiere recordings of sonatas by Bach pupils and admirers Scheibe and Schaffrath, two composers unknown to me, whose pieces are of a very high quality indeed. Whereas from the point of view of originality the hands-down star of the whole boxed set is surprisingly the sonata by JG Graun WV Av.XV:46, also receiving its premiere recording here. Context is all, and the prime virtue of this set is the rich context into which the performers place the Bach sonatas, although the uniformly fine playing and musical imagination is a further factor in its success.

D. James Ross

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