Bach's sonatas for viola da gamba and continuo seem to be quite popular among performers--surprisingly so, considering that they're not original compositions, but adaptations by Bach of trio sonatas
he wrote for other instruments. Perhaps that's why they've been performed and recorded more often over the years by cellists (on both Baroque
instruments) and even violists
than by gamba players. During Bach Year 2000, however, these works have gotten a great deal of attention: the present recording is the fifth to appear since late 1999. Why take any notice of this one? It's just plain gamba and harpsichord: no marquee names like Jordi Savall and Ton Koopman
, no unusual instruments like the lautenwerck
(keyboard-lute) or early fortepiano
featured on other recordings. Why did Harmonia Mundi add this release to the pile instead of saving it for a couple of years?
Because it's very, very good. The viola da gamba is a reticent instrument, and Jaap ter Linden doesn't make the lustrous sound Savall does, but he transmits a sense of the melodic line's ebbs and flows even better than his famous colleague. Richard Egarr (and Harmonia Mundi's recording engineers) give a crystalline sparkle to the harpsichord's sound. The tempos are just slightly slower than on the other recent recordings of these works, but the pace never seems to drag. The other recordings mentioned above each have something to recommend them, but this release is at least their equal. --Matthew Westphal