......this latest recording of Bach's viola da gamba sonatas on viola and piano seems to me to be more authentic than most, inasmuch as the performers strive to imitate Bach's flexible attitude towards transcription and performance. Here, we have both clarity and honesty. The music remains alive, even if the results are not to everyone's taste.
Yuko Inoue and Kathron Sturrock are members of that wonderful chamber ensemble the Fibonacci Sequence; they are therefore very well attuned to each other's playing. In addition, Sturrock spent many years accompanying singers, including working with Elisabeth Schwarzkopf in her master-classes. For her part, Inoue is a former student of Nobuko Imai, whose complete recordings of the Bach solo cello suites on viola (Philips) will need no introduction here to lovers of this repertoire.
Fine recordings of these works abound, and it was interesting to compare these accounts with two more 'orthodox' ones, ignoring Kim Kashkashian and Keith Jarrett, who seem to want the best of both worlds with their viola and harpsichord version on ECM: Mischa Maisky and Martha Argerich (cello and piano) and, more recently, Jonathan Manson and Trevor Pinnock (gamba and harpsichord). Both gains and losses are apparent. The newcomers exhibit the nuance and clarity of the former while lacking its fraught expressiveness and access to the darker palette of the cello (although most of the music does lie within the viola's compass); they share with the latter's approach a rich suggestiveness and economy of gesture but seem comparatively drained of colour.
So what is on offer here? Inoue and Sturrock adopt a fairly measured approach; in the faster movements, a sense of forward motion is achieved more through varied articulation and well-placed accents. As a result, the performances are still buoyant and electric with discovery, even when there's a sense of suppressed drama, as in the opening Vivace of BWV1029. As for the slower movements, listen to the Apollonian beauty in the Andante from BWV1029. Both are object-lessons in wringing every ounce of emotion from a piece of music by carefully elucidating its structure.
This is a release that legitimizes itself by definitely adding to our understanding of Bach's music.