Susanne Lautenbacher

Bach: Sonatas for Violin & Harpsichord, BWV 1014-1019

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No original recording date is given for this set, but the back cover helpfully relates that "generations of music lovers were introduced to Bach's instrumental masterworks through these classic Vox recordings from the 1960s." This was one of the bargain three-LP "Vox boxes" that were all beloved of cash-starved classical music collectors in the 1960s, reduced to a pair of CDs. These sets were notorious for their terrible sound, so the remastering here by an organization called Gaudette Associates is noteworthy for creating basic sonic clarity. The blurb goes on to call German violinist Susanne Lautenbacher "an early pioneer of historically informed violin playing," which indeed she was; she has gone on to make fine recordings of these same Bach sonatas in historical styles. These performances do not seem to use Baroque violins or bows, or much ornamentation, and the dinging harpsichord of Martin Galling, like Lautenbacher born in the 1930s, is a period piece. Yet by the standards of the 1960s these readings do indeed qualify as historically enthusiastic at the very least. Lautenbacher's tone is clear and dry, with light vibrato and no Romantic violin mannerisms; she has a dark, rounded tone that she manages to squeeze nicely into Bach's brisk melodic lines. Galling's harpsichord is relaxed and bright. The two players try to make Bach sound not like Mendelssohn or Brahms, but like himself, and despite the low-fi sound they stood head and shoulders above not only the Bach performances by name violinists of the time, but also those by the first generation of Italian Baroque players. They're still more than listenable, even if members of the next generation of players, such as Rachel Podger, achieved a crisper sound, and they deserve recognition as classics of the genre.

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