J.S. BACH: 6 Trio Sonatas, BWV 525-530 / Emer Buckley, Jochewed Schwarz, harpsichords / JS Records 2012
Bach’s Trio Sonatas, though written for organ, have been played by a variety of instruments, sometimes even instrumental groups, but to the best of my knowledge this is their first outing on two harpsichords. And what playing it is! Those who have read my review of Schwarz and Buckley’s scintillating (and sensitive) playing of the works of François Couperin on two harpsichords will know how highly I rate their intelligence and, more importantly, enthusiasm for such music, and this is clearly evident in these performances as well. One reviewer on Amazon, apparently upset by the fact that two harpsichords sound very much alike (well, DUH!), has criticized them for not allowing the different voices of the music to sound out, but I heard nothing that was unclear or obscured. On the contrary, the crisp sound of harpsichords allows every note to be heard, in perfect proportion to every other note. I believe it’s more a problem of a listener with “slow ears” who simply cannot hear, or does not choose to hear, the notes because they are not “diffentiated” enough. It’s his loss.
Unlike the Couperin, where Schwarz and Buckley employed a fair amount of rubato in their performances which gave the music a slightly irregular rhythm (wholly appropriate to Baroque music of that period), here they play more stirctly in tempo without sounding metronomic. In comparing the first two of these Trio Sonatas to the performances I have by the great French organist Jean Guillou, I actually liked their crispness and ability to play the music jauntily—something that is quite difficult to do on an organ—a bit better. There is just so much joy in their performances that it emanates from your speakers. They’re having so much fun with this music, difficult though it is, that their enthusiasm rubs off on the listener. I would compare their performances of Bach to the recordings of Marlowe or Landowska from the past: a style of playing that has, unfortunately, disappeared in our modern era of keep-it-all-clean-but-unemotional. And this comparison does not merely extend to their styles. If you will take a close look at the instruments as they are pictured on the front cover of the CD, you’ll note that these are relatively large 18th-century replica harpsichords (constructed by Reinhard von Nagel after a 1710 instrument by Michael Mietke), with 8-foot strings and large frames. Moreover, they are entirely strung with brass, which gives them a bigger sound than the “usual” models of the era with brass in the bass but iron strings in the middle and upper registers. Small wonder these instruments have such a rich, full sound.
The sound quality is just as natural and forward as in their Couperin disc, which is all to the good. The CD can be ordered from Amazon or Baroque Sounds (firstname.lastname@example.org). This is now my favorite disc of these six trio sonatas!
— © 2016 Lynn René Bayley