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Fanfare Magazine: 39:5 (05-06/2016) 
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Reviewer: Bertil van Boer


The violin sonatas of Johann Sebastian Bach are some of the most iconic works in the entire repertory, and it would seem that a fair number of violinists and keyboardists have been eager in one continuous stream to record these. Bach himself played both instruments, and although his reputation was more as a keyboardist than violinist, he was no doubt proficient enough on the latter instrument to have made the composition of these sonatas a focal point. He was also familiar with local performers such as Johann Georg Pisendel (for whom he probably wrote the E-Minor Sonata, BWV 1023, or at least this is the only surviving source for the piece), and when opportunities to write for these proficient players came up, Bach was only eager to oblige. In Cöthen, indeed, his focus was on instrumental music, and it is not surprising that the first set of Six Sonatas (BWV 1014–1019) probably reflect the showing off of his abilities to his new employer, providing a breadth of musical style and techniques that must have been impressive for the Margrave.

One needs not go into depth about the works, given their ubiquitous recording history, but suffice it to say that this is a continuation by the redoubtable Finnish keyboardist Aapo Häkkinen’s apparent project of getting all of Bach’s chamber works done. As usual, his booklet notes are exhaustive, with a plethora of cited documentation that reaches a high musicological standard. Whether the normal purchaser will wade into the carefully constructed arguments is a matter of speculation, but if one does, then one will find Wolfgang Kostujak’s comments particularly appropriate and well supported. As for the performances themselves, Erich Höbarth is a facile player, whose tone is strong and virile, with a dexterity on some of Bach’s more gnarly passages that makes easy work of the difficulties. My favorite is his rendition of the huge cadenza that begins the E-Minor Sonata (BVW 1023), in which the sequencing takes on a life all its own. When the keyboard comes in with a softer lament, the energy dissipates and a smooth flow made more emotional by good phrasing takes over. In the third movement of BWV 1017, he knows when to dial the power back enough to let the harpsichord emerge as an equal partner. Häkkinen does his usual superb job of teasing out Bach’s often spun-out phrases and sequences, and he always uses enough flexibility in tempos and phrasing to make the harpsichord an equal partner to the more sonorous violin.

The sound quality of these SACDs is clear and present, with a roundness and fullness that envelops the listener. The bottom line of this two-disc complete set is that this is by far my choice for any complete set of Bach’s violin sonatas, eclipsing previous recordings, most equally well performed, by virtue of its interpretive skill. This one will certainly make my Want List for this year.

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