Bach Six Trio Sonatas Kings Consort Vivat123

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Six Trio Sonatas, BWV525-530
No 1 in F major (BWV525)
No 2 in C minor (BWV526)
No 3 in D minor (BWV527)
No 4 in E minor (BWV528)
No 5 in C major (BWV529)
No 6 in G major (BWV530)
The King’s Consort
rec. 2023, Alpheton New Maltings, Suffolk, UK
Vivat Vivat123 [75]

I’ve loved J S Bach’s Six Trio Sonatas ever since I first became acquainted with them in Christopher Herrick’s superlative recording on Hyperion. For the organ version of these intriguing scores, this is the one I would heartily recommend. The Sonatas were most likely written for the composer’s eldest son, Wilhelm Friedemann whilst he was learning to play the organ. The irony is that the works are no walk-over, and demand of the performer total independence of hands and feet. Their intimacy and conversational qualities align them comfortably to the instrumental trio sonata and it’s not at all surprising that they lend themselves to instrumental arrangement. There are several in the catalogue, and I’m particularly fond of the Camerata Köln’s recording on the cpo label, enthusiastically reviewed by my colleague Johan van Veen in 2011. The King’s Consort themselves first recorded the Sonatas in October 1995 for Hyperion. Their new recording builds on their knowledge and performances of these works over the past twenty-eight years.

Bach himself was not averse to reusing, rearranging and transposing both his own and other composer’s music. Robert King’s fine arrangements showcase a colourful line-up with his choice of instrumentation, and I find them more appealing than the original organ versions. There’s a real potent synergy between the players who infuse the lively movements with energy and zest. Yet one senses a relaxed approach to the music-making throughout. The performers clearly enjoy the music and their commitment is infectious. The balance among the instruments is ideal. The slow movements are expressive and poetically shaped. Sample the Lento of the G major Sonata, BWV 530, which has an endearing conversational quality to it. Then there’s the exquisite Andante of BWV 528, wistful and pensive, enhanced by the oboe d’amore’s melancholic tone.

I thought it would be useful to do a head to head comparison between the earlier Hyperion version and this latest one from Vivat. The scoring for both is the same (2 violins, viola, cello, oboe, oboe d’amore, theorbo, chamber organ and harpsichord). The personnel have obviously changed over so many intervening years. I didn’t detect any major interpretative difference between the two cycles, but in this latest version King has transposed BWV 525 and BWV 526 a semitone and a tone up respectively. The Hyperion recording has a more spacious and resonant acoustic. The Vivat has a more immediate presence and intimacy. I, personally, have a slight preference for this new venture. I don’t, however, feel it’s worth investing in if you already have the earlier cycle.

Stephen Greenbank

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The King’s Consort
Kati Debretzeni (violin)
Huw Daniel (violin)
Rose Redgrave (viola)
Frances Norbury (oboe & oboe d’amore)
Robin Michael (cello)
Eligio Quinteiro (theorbo)
Robert King (harpsichord & organ)