Antoine Tamestit / Masato Suzuki

J.S. Bach: Sonatas for Viola da Gamba and Harpsichord

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There are multiple points of interest to this recording of Bach's sonatas BWV 1027-1029. There is the presence of the growing renown of Masato Suzuki, for instance, who, like his father Masaaki, is a formidable keyboard player as well as a choral conductor. There is the fact that these sonatas, plus a transcription of a melody from a church cantata, are top-notch Bach not terribly often played. The real news, however, is that they are played by France's Antoine Tamestit on a viola, not on the original viola da gamba. As the artists claim via the medium of the cover blurb, "both instruments use the same alto clef, but the projection of the sound is entirely different. So this is no transcription, but leaves the artists in total freedom to rediscover with delight these all too rarely played masterpieces." The performances live up to this claim: the effect of hearing the music on the viola is quite different. Listeners' reactions will necessarily be various, but the performances are well worth hearing. Tamestit, playing a 1673 Stradivarius viola, does not really attempt a historical-instrument reading, but he does keep the temperature low. The resulting sound is a bit gamba-like, but you realize that he is selecting from the viola's greater dynamic range, and the effect is often haunting. Sample the later parts of the Andante of the Sonata in G major, BWV 1027, in the remarkable passage where the viola holds a low note while the harpsichord builds structures around it. This was surely a passage written with the sound of the gamba in mind, but with a viola it has an almost Romantic-era effect. You may or may not want to hear these sonatas played this way, but the entire performance carries the feeling of hearing the performers become fascinated by what they themselves are doing, and you may well have the same experience.

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