CD: “Bach Six Trio Sonatas Re-Imagined for Chamber Ensemble”
“Back in [issue] 34:4 and then again in 36:4, I reviewed recordings of Bach’s trio sonatas for organ in other instrumental arrangements: the first time for a Baroque string trio and harpsichord (the Brook Street Band), the second time for varied ensembles of two to five instruments (Florilegium). This latest release by Philadelphia’s resident Baroque orchestra, Tempesta di Mare, is directly competitive with the latter, utilizing anywhere from two to six performers in a given sonata. As I have discussed the issues involved in such arrangements in those prior reviews, I will forego repetition of that this time.
How do the performances compare? Both sets of arrangements are effective, and both ensembles play superbly; you can’t go wrong with either one, and should delight in having both. However, there is a clear difference in interpretive approach, in a case where timings do tell the story. With only one exception (the opening Allegro of BWV 529), Florilegium takes a faster tempo than Tempesta in every fast movement, and a slower tempo in every slow movement. Thus, Florilegium lays a stress on contrasts, whereas Tempesta emphasizes continuity. While Florilegium’s interpretive profile happens to appeal more to my personal taste, that is a purely subjective judgment; certainly, I would not want to forego the exceptionally fine recorder playing of Gwyn Roberts and the nimble finger-work of Adam Pearl at the harpsichord for Tempesta (especially since illness prevented me from attending the concert from which these recordings derived). As always, Chandos lavishes on Tempesta its trademark rich recorded sound; exemplary and detailed booklet notes, artist bios, and table of contents; and multiple photos. In sum, Tempesta and Chandos have added another winning entry to their ongoing series; long may it thrive! Heartily recommended.” Fanfare, November/December 2014
“… The Tempesta di Mare Chamber Players present these works in a variety of combinations made by member Richard Stone, who also performs. The instruments include recorder, baroque flute,violin, viola, cello, viola da gamba, lute and harpsichord. The sound is warm and resonant, and the larger ensembles give this music a warmer feel… ” American Record Guide, May/June 2015
“… performed with a nuanced sensitivity that immediately reveals the appeal of the music; … highly recommended.”
“The latest release from the renowned Philadelphia chamber orchestra Tempesta di Mare features six trio sonatas by Johann Sebastian Bach. These sonatas, BWV 525-30, were originally written for organ, likely as pedagogical tools or practice pieces for his son, Wilhelm Friedemann. They were still fashionable in the late 18th century; according to one of Bach’s sons, they were written in the kind of galant style that would assure their perpetual popularity. The trios are not typical sonatas; the play between the soloist(s) and the larger ensemble and their shorter overall structure is more reminiscent of the ‘sonata in concerto style,’ a subgenre with which Bach and some of his contemporaries experimented. Lutenist Richard Stone has re-orchestrated them for a variety of chamber ensembles. As Bach and company themselves did in numerous other situations, Stone has not only chosen different orchestration for each sonata but also transposed the sonata to suit the ensemble and occasionally doubled a part or even added a new line, as was the custom of Bach’s time.
In musical terms, the galant style is characterized by simplicity, elegance, and instantly recognizable charm. Tempesta di Mare has the style down pat. The ensemble performs with a nuanced sensitivity that immediately reveals the appeal of the music. The playing is energetic and purposeful, and the warm acoustic of the recording is lovely. Stone did a wonderful job with the orchestrations, which fantastically show off the diversity of the ensemble. A noticeable standout is the fourth sonata, scored here for the less common combination of lute and harpsichord, and the multitude of textures that shine forth in Sonata V are delightful. Highly recommended. ” Early Music America, Winter 2014.
“… At times organists will barely recognize this music, but there’s no harm in that. Music of such supreme genius can withstand being looked at from a wholly new perspective, and when played with such conviction as here, questions of authenticity seem wholly irrelevant.” International Record Review, July/August 2014