Bach & Entourage: Sonatas for Violin and Basso continuo

Bach & Entourage
Johannes Pramsohler, violin, Philippe Grisvard, harpsichord
Audax ADX13703. 65’11

Sonatas for Violin and Basso continuo by Bach, Pisendel, Graun and Krebs

I have been watching violinist Johannes Pramsohler make his mark in the world of period violin playing over the past few years, and this CD shows that his growing reputation is well deserved. This well-chosen programme of relatively unknown Sonatas from the Bach circle, is a telling reminder that although his later fame came from his organ playing, Bach’s early childhood was spent learning the violin from his violinist father. As Pramsohler’s notes point out, it was only when the 10 year-old Bach, now orphaned, moved into his organ-playing elder brother’s house, that he started to focus on the organ. But he kept his father’s violin, his only inheritance, all his life. Although only one work is definitely by Bach, with two possibly Bach’s, Bach is suffused throughout the other works, by Pisendel, Graun and Krebs, representing the extraordinary flowering of musical talent in 18th century Weimar, Leipzig and Dresden.  The Graun and Krebs works are world premiere recordings, taking us into a slightly later musical period.  The CD ends with Bach’s extraordinary Fugue in g (BWV 1026).  

Johannes Pramsohler’s violin playing is full of character and élan, combining vigour with sensitivity. His virtuosity is worn lightly. His tone is delightfully varied, often on individual notes, but this is never taken too far or overdone. He plays (indeed, owns) the 1713 Rogeri violin that previously belonged to Reinhard Goebel, and does it proud. Philippe Grisvard’s continuo harpsichord playing is forthright and rather busier than I would normally like. But repeated listening helped me to grow into the style, as the musical bond between the two players became more apparent. His contributions are always appropriate, never taking the focus from the violin, and remaining in a suitable period style throughout.

I am never sure whether the continuo harpsichord should always play in unison with the violin, in the opening statement of fugues.  Philippe Grisvard does that here, and it took a bit of getting used to (in, for example, track 9). The problem is that the first two fugal entries (here with violin double stopping) are reinforced by the harpsichord’s twang, whereas subsequent lower voice entries just have the harpsichord sound below the combined upper two lines where both instruments sound in unison. In the case of this track, the fugal form soon gives way to virtuosic flourishes from the violin. To balance that, the unadorned sound of the solo violin is heard in Pisandel’s Sonata in a for solo violin.

This is an inspiring CD with two fine musicians exploring a fascinating repertoire.

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