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GRAMOPHONE (December / 2017)
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Harmonia Mundi

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Reviewer: Charlotte Gardner

Does it matter if a classical work is either of uncertain origin, penned by a long-forgotten composer or stylistically atypical of its authenticated composer, if the actual notes on the page are ones worth hearing? This is the thought-provoking question behind ‘BWV … or not?’, which, as its title suggests, develops its case through works attached in some way to Johann Sebastian Bach, while pertinently pointing out that nobody during the pre-intellectual-property era of these works’ creation would have given a hoot.

Kicking off the programme, therefore, is BWV1025, catalogued as JS Bach’s Suite for violin and cembalo obbligato in A major but actually his arrangement of a lute suite by Silvius Leopold Weiss. Also in the mix is BWV1024, the unsigned C minor violin sonata whose writing ticks some but not enough of the Bach stylistic boxes, meaning it’s now attributed (with a question mark) to Bach’s colleague, the violin virtuoso Johann Georg Pisendel. Then there’s the C major sonata for two violins, BWV1037, which, despite being by Johann Gottlieb Goldberg, was published in 1860 under Johann Sebastian’s name. 

So it’s an interesting and diverse assortment, performed here with enough style and conviction to genuinely make the modern-day issue of not being able to attach a ‘name’ to a musically worthwhile piece seem irrelevant. After all, does it really matter if it were Bach, Goldberg or someone else who penned that life-affirming Gigue in BWV1037 or the rhapsodic, aching Adagio that opens BWV1024?  

There’s some beautiful duetting across the programme too, one highlight being the timbral combination of Manuel Granatiero’s softly woody transverse flute against the rich fullness of Amandine Beyer’s violin in BWV1038 (Bach’s G major Sonata for transverse flute and violin once wrongly published under his son Carl Philipp Emanuel’s name). Another nice touch is the use of a German lute, although it must be said that within the overall attractive brightness and nearness of the sound, the lute and the viola da gamba are very much in the background of the balance, Beyer’s violin and Anna Fontana’s harpsichord appearing most vividly.  

The CD version contains the Fantasia and Rondeau from BWV1025, but for the full suite you’ll need to stream or download the album – an effort (or not) thoroughly worth your while, because this is all enjoyable stuff.


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