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J S Bach Five Violin Sonatas

Jacqueline Ross - violin David Ponsford - harpsichord

Sonata No3 in E, BWV 1016 Sonata in F, BWV 1022 Sonata No4 in c, BWV 1017 Sonata in g, BWV 1020 (attributed to both J.S. and C.P.E. Bach) Sonata in A, BWV 1015

Recorded in St Andrew's Church, Toddington, UK on 17-19 July 2000 ASV "Gaudeamus" CD GAU 228 [70'12"]

The sonatas of Bach have been available for so many years and in so many recordings with different attitudes to performance, ranging from romantic versions with Steinway accompaniment to paired down skeletons of gut-strung "authenticity", that the listener could be forgiven for wondering whether a new version is really needed. This recording does not provide a definate answer to that problem, but it does bring up some fine performances and an interesting new take on the whole period instrument business. Jacqueline Ross, a Julliard trained American specialist in both modern and baroque violin playing, and !a professor at the Birmingham Conservatoire, plays on an Andrea Amati instrument from 1570, with all the grace and panache that would be expected of a baroque violin specialist. However, unlike too many "period" performances there is no compromise in the sound that she draws from the violin. Even some of the finest instruments can sound pretty strained when taken back to their "original" set-up, but this instrument, in Ross's hands, produces a warmth of timbre and a complexity of colour that would be more expected from a modern violin. This balance effectively obscures the whole issue of "period" or "modern" to the extent that the untrained listener would probably not recognise which "side" Jacqueline Ross is on. The result of this is that, while this may not be the most memorable performance you could ever hear, it is a performance that records the interpretation of a particular violinist at a particular time. In many respects, the issues of "per(R)formance practice" take a back seat to those of the personal interpretation of the performers. This is a refreshing change and gives the disc something more akin to a concert performance - the sense of music being made by musicians, rather than put together by editors, is apparant. David Ponsford, a wide-ranging keyboard specialist, commands the harpsichord with similar authority. It is unfortunate that the balance of dialogue in the recording too often favours the violin at the expense of a more equal partnership. Musically there is as much interest in the harpsichord parts as the violin, and the recording balance does sometimes obscure the more dominating aspect of the harpsichord that would be apparent in live concert. This also leads to moments where the lack of a bass instrument is felt, although, again, there is no musical requirement for such with these players. A refreshing and interesting performance.
Peter Wells

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