The Palladian Ensemble has recorded some of Johann Sebastian Bach's trio sonatas before, but there is no duplication between that disc, made for Linn in 1996 when Rachel Podger was still violinist in the group, and Sonatas and Chorales -- J.S. Bach. Here the Palladian Ensemble mixes up two trio sonatas (BVWs 1039 and 526) with a violin sonata (BWV 1021) and five chorale settings as played on the combination of recorder, violin, viola da gamba, and Baroque guitar or archlute. Unlike the Renaissance consort employed for Bach's music in Fretwork's 2005 release Alio Modo, all of the instruments used on Sonatas and Chorales -- J.S. Bach are of a kind known to Bach; he even owned similar instruments himself, or is understood to have played with musicians who had them. Several of Bach's scores are intended to have the properties of flexibility in terms of instrumentation, as was common in the Baroque -- just because the Trio Sonata, BWV 528, is scored out for two manuals doesn't mean that the work is meant to be the exclusive reserve of organists.
All of this argument in favor of Palladian Ensemble's intelligent voicing of Bach's instrumental textures would be merely academic if the musical performance was true to the text, but the emotional and spiritual dimension of Bach's music was not invoked. The Palladian's previous recording of Bach: Trio Sonatas with Podger was well played, pretty, and pristine, but emotionally somewhat distant -- clearly there was an overriding concern by the younger Palladian Ensemble to get the music right as written. The musicianship on Sonatas and Chorales -- J.S. Bach, this time with violinist Rodolfo Richter on violin, is much more mature, relaxed, and has extraordinary emotional depth -- the Palladian's reading of Bach's familiar "Schübler" chorale Wachet Auf, Ruft Uns die Stimme, BWV 645, may move listeners to tears. It appears that Sonatas and Chorales -- J.S. Bach is as close as we've come on recordings to the kind of informal music-making that resonated through Bach's own home, which we know about from the diary entries of his friends and family. Pamela Thorby maintains such a lovely sound on her Baroque recorders; her tone is soft, never shrill, and doesn't pierce one's brain as does the sound of certain recorder players. Sustained tones, so important in Bach, simply appear and vanish as they should, no matter who within the Palladian Ensemble is assigned to them.
Anyone who loves the chamber music of Bach will find Palladian Ensemble's Sonatas and Chorales -- J.S. Bach right on the money. Linn's Hybrid Multichannel sound is terrific and will place the Palladian Ensemble as though directly in one's living room.