Steven Isserlis and Richard Egarr here assemble all the viola da gamba sonatas written by three composers born in the propitious year of 1685: one each by Handel and Domenico Scarlatti, and three by JS Bach. Isserlis plays them on the gamba’s modern cousin, the cello, and the microphone loves his playing, picking up all the nuances and scampering asides from his soft-spoken instrument which can sometimes get lost in big concert halls. Egarr on harpsichord matches Isserlis’s eloquence and rambunctious energy all the way. The dreamy, airy slow movement of Bach’s Sonata in G minor brings telling use of vibrato as Isserlis circles around Egarr, his playing at once idiomatic and soulful. An extra cellist reinforces the bass line in the Handel and Scarlatti, in which the composers give the harpsichordist only a framework; Egarr’s imaginative realisations ensure that even when Scarlatti is at his most repetitive, he is never dull.
Bach aficionados will be delighted to find again Wieland Kuijken in this reference album coupling the Cello Suites and Gamba Sonatas (with his son Piet), originally released in 2004 and shortly afterwards out of print. As Wieland Kuijken confesses in his interesting text, he laboured over the Cello Suites with his instrument (credited to Andrea Amati) for 30 years before eventually deciding that his interpretation was ready for this compelling recording: ‘Today more than ever, I think it is a whole lifetime that one puts into these works, regardless of whatever one might say, whatever one might know.’
Over the years I have heard many recordings of music written for the Imperial court in Vienna. That’s no wonder: Vienna was a centre of music-making in Europe. During the 17th and 18th centuries some of the best musicians and composers were in the service of the Habsburg emperors. Most of the recordings concentrate on music for violins or voice. This disc is different in that it presents music for viol consort. That’s all the more interesting, as it is often thought that in the 17th century consort music was only written in France and England. It is quite surprising that this kind of music was also written in Austria. Most musicians in the service of the Imperial court were from Italy, where the viol consort had gone out of fashion since the first quarter of the 17th century. The fact that Italian composers wrote music for viol consort was due to the personal preferences of the emperors, Ferdinand III and Leopold I, who also wrote some music for this kind of ensemble themselves.
”Risonanze” is the debut solo album of London-based viola da gamba player Ibrahim Aziz. Aziz is considered to be one of the greatest performers of the instrument of his generation. This recording is a performance of immense expression, expertly delivered on a viol made by English string maker Barak Norman in 1712 and which features the premiere recordings of three works.