Mieneke van der Velden

Bach: Da Gamba

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The viola da gamba is, today, somewhat of a musical anachronism. Ironically, the instrument was not extensively popular during Bach's lifetime, making the fact that he composed solo sonatas for the gamba a historical curiosity. Despite its relative obscurity, Mieneke van der Velden has created a remarkably successful and prolific career out of performing works for the gamba. The Ramee album features the three original Bach gamba sonatas -- by far the most familiar works for the instrument, no doubt because of their usurpation by cellists -- as well as other works Bach transcribed to include the gamba. The performances themselves are somewhat of a mixed bag, a surprise considering the strength of van der Velden's previous albums. The original gamba sonatas in G minor and D major are by far the most successful of the album, although the curious decision to use organ instead of harpsichord in the D major sonata creates some balance problems and does not yield as pleasing of a sound as the gamba-harpsichord combination heard in the G minor sonata. The third original gamba sonata -- in G major -- is heard here in an unsatisfying transcription that includes a violin. Not only does the addition of a violin take a great deal of the solo passages away from the gamba, but intonation in the violin is far from exemplary and the sound quality of the violin and gamba fail to blend well. The same issues remain in the Sinfonia, BWV 76, and Trio Sonata, BWV 1028; the violin is simply too dominant for an album entitled "da Gamba" and its sub-par intonation is a definite detractor from the overall enjoyment.

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