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GRAMOPHONE (08/2021)
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Reviewer: Mark Seow

The title and cover of this album are misleading, for Robert Smith and Francesco Corti have hidden loveliness between the bits of Bach. The Sonata in A by Christoph Schaffrath – keyboardist for the Crown Prince Frederick, then later chamber musician at the court of Princess Anna Amalia – is a joyful introduction to this composer. The concluding Allegro is particularly fun. Corti is, as ever, entirely charismatic. His playing brims with musical winks and flirtatious filigree. Smith, surprisingly, is at his finest here too: there’s a buoyancy and a liveness to this conversation.

Hidden between more Bach is Dido’s Torment, Smith’s own reinterpretation of Purcell’s Dido’s Lament for solo viola da gamba. This starts as you might expect: mournful, plaintive. Then, with ghostly string-crossings, we whistle through cold air, away from arioso and into a different world altogether. And it’s upon this ride that gamba metamorphoses into electric guitar! Well, not literally, but for all intents and purposes Smith becomes a rock star: hand slapping against gut, and sul ponticello so piercing that it’s as if his gamba had been fried with electricity. It’s thrilling and fun, though a bit weird.

Now, this review could easily end here with barely a mention of the Bach. Certainly, the playing is elegant enough and tempos are agreeable, but there is not much that makes these performances memorable. The balance between instruments is so far stacked against the harpsichord’s treble that the Kern instrument lacks shine, and one has to listen with a bit too much work to detect Corti’s nuanced and intricate embroidery.

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