As Ingomar Rainer correctly points out in his booklet notes, approaching these pieces demands a certain amount of decision
taking. For me, the first problem to be dealt with is that of putting modern flutes against a typically baroque accompaniment
of harpsichord and cello. If you feel you can get over hearing the harmonic rich sound of high-tech flutes in this setting,
you will also have to deal with an uncompromisingly contemporary style of playing, which, while not necessarily insensitive
to the music, has all of the vibrato and in-your-face sheer power with which the baroque traverso just cannot compete. If
these things don’t worry you, then there are rewards to be had from having put aside these particular period preconditions.
Both flautists perform with absolute security, and all performers here are entirely in tune with Bach’s idiom, through
phrasing to articulation, and topped off with neatly executed and tasteful ornamentation.
More commonly heard as part of the repertoire are Bach’s sonatas BWV 1030-35 for solo flute and continuo – usually
harpsichord, and cello where the accompaniment is genuine continuo rather than ‘obbligato’ keyboard. The sonatas here fall
generally under the heading of trio sonatas, with some appearing in a number of guises – BWV 1039 for instance you may
already have in your library as a sonata for viola da gamba or cello and harpsichord. The version here is of course by Bach
himself, and sounds very good indeed – the music having all the richness of any of the composer’s best concertos.
There are those movements which have been attributed to Bach in the past, but which are now thought to be more likely the
work of one or other of his sons. BWV 1036 and BWV 1038 are the interlopers here, and on these recordings it is fairly easy
to hear why the hand of the master may be once or even twice-removed. These are highly attractive works, but like an
imitation of Shakespeare, the sheer intensity of musical invention is less eternally present in these works: there is a
certain amount of ‘waiting for the next good bit’. An abundance of less elegant modulations and rather unmemorable melodic
lines and shapes can easily convince that this is the kind of thing Bach might have nodded over with paternal pride, but
would never have considered up to standard as his own work.
BWV 1029 is originally for harpsichord and viola da gamba and harpsichord, but has been effectively arranged for the
flute-duet combination by Rainer and Schmeiser. The same is true of BWV 1038, which was constructed using the violin sonata
BWV 1021 as a basis, and is now also considered to be by one of Bach’s sons. The equal partnership of melody and
counter-melody is something to which the ear needs to become accustomed in these works, but both flautists have the true
chamber musician’s feel for balance, and know when to project less, or when to rise above the lines of the other.
The balance of the recording is very nice in the Wyastone Leys acoustic, with the harpsichord balanced appropriately fairly
low, mixing with the sounds of the other instruments rather than jangling too much through the texture of the whole. These
works can of course be found in as versions in various trio sonata sets, but I’ve been unable to find an equivalent release
with the flute duet as solo. This Nimbus CD has to be seen as a welcome addition to the Bach catalogue, and while being a
very pleasant listen indeed, should also inject some added life into the flute fraternity.