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.
Born in 1986, Gen Yokosaka began to play the cello at the age 4 and studied with Katsuro Washio and Hakuro Mori at the Toho School of Music as well as taking further lessons with David Geringas and Jian Wang at the Ishikawa Music Academy. Gen quickly became known as the most promising cellist of his generation in his native Japan after being awarded the top prize in the string section of the All Japan Classical Music Competition at 12 years old. He went on to win numerous competitions including, at 15, the 2002 Viva Hall Cello Competition in 2002 of which he is the youngest ever winner.
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.
It is only recently that two seemingly unconnected names, those of Vivaldi and the viola da gamba, have been uttered in the same breath. The established, uncontested view on the matter was quite simply this: from the middle of the 17th century, the viol, which was still flourishing north of the Alps, had all but disappeared in Italy, where it had been replaced by the bass violin and, subsequently, by the cello.
Fifteen years after his recording of Bach’s three Sonatas for viola da gamba and harpsichord (on hm, with Rinaldo Alessandrini), Paolo Pandolfo returns to this repertoire a new approach: the fruit of active and concentrated years of consideration, study and research into the inherent possibilities of his instrument. Given the basic differing natures of these two instruments, the performance of these works very often turns – in Pandolfo’s words – into a “musical argument”, rather than what is demanded by the music’s essential nature: a “musical conversation” in which the score achieves “transparency and eloquence”.
"…an hour of wonderfull Bachplaying on an assortment of ‘wrong’ instruments (…) This is an unusual Bach disc, but one which both revels in the music of the moment and reveals its timelessness." ~Gramophone