Nicolas Altstaedt / Jonathan Cohen

Bach: 3 Sonatas for Viola da Gamba and Harpsichord, BWV 1027-1029

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Bach: 3 Sonatas for Viola da Gamba and Harpsichord, BWV 1027-1029 Review

by James Manheim

Bach's sonatas for viola da gamba and keyboard, BWV 1027-1029, were partly adapted for other works, and there's nothing outrageous in itself about playing them on a cello. Indeed, the gamba was a fairly old-fashioned instrument by Bach's time, and the present performance may well be historically authentic, as the booklet contends. German cellist Nicolas Altstaedt tones down his instrument, so to speak, by using a low tuning intended to reproduce the gamba's more intimate quality. Nevertheless, this is an unusual reading, one that makes the music much darker and more dramatic than it usually is, or, perhaps, was intended to be. The booklet speaks inaccurately of "prescient Sturm und Drang" in Bach's music, but here it does take on a stormy quality, with Altstaedt taking quick tempos in the outer movements, careening around the corners and giving phrases a lot of shape. It's the sort of performance that may well depend on individuals' reactions, but it's internally coherent, with sympathetic support from harpsichordist Jonathan Cohen. The sound environment of Berlin's Jesus-Christus-Kirche is too big and booming for this music, but again it fits the overall concept to a degree. You pay your money and you take your choice, and now you can sample the music on the Internet before doing so.

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