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Title - Bach: Sonatas for Viola Da Gamba
Artist - Sarah Cunningham / Richard Egarr

For those unaware, legends of the period-performance community Sarah Cunningham and Richard Egarr need little introduction with their contributions to recorded music garnering critical acclaim from early music aficionados across the decades.

They join forces for their AVIE Records debut recording of J.S. Bach’s celebrated Sonatas for Viola da Gamba & Harpsichord together with Cunningham’s dazzling Organ Trio Sonata and Flute Partita arrangements to conclude the program.

The Gamba Sonatas have long-established themselves as a staple in the cello/gamba repertoire, notably extending their fame into popular culture with the Adagio from Sonata No. 3 featuring (alongside with Bach’s solo suites) in Anthony Minghella’s 1990 BAFTA award-winning movie “Truly, Madly, Deeply”, starring Alan Rickman and Juliet Stephenson.

Sonata No. 1 in G BWV 1027 for viola da gamba & harpsichord
1. I. Adagio 4.02
2. II. Allegro ma non tanto 3.39
3. III. Andante 2.20
4. IV. Allegro moderato 3.13

Sonata No. 2 in D BWV 1028 for viola da gamba & harpsichord
5. I. [Adagio] 1.51
6. II. Allegro 4.01
7. III. Andante 4.17
8. IV. Allegro 4.09

Sonata No. 3 in G minor BWV 1029 for viola da gamba & harpsichord
9. I. Vivace 5.33
10. II. Adagio 4.56 SINGLE AV2499 (15 November)
11. III. Allegro 3.57

Organ Trio Sonata No. 3 in D minor BWV 527
arranged by Sarah Cunningham for viola da gamba & harpsichord
12. I. Andante 4.55
13. II. Adagio e dolce 5.01
14. III. Vivace 4.00

15. Flute Partita in A minor BWV 1013: I. Allemande 9.22
arranged by Sarah Cunningham for viola da gamba solo (transcribed to D minor)

With Sarah Cunningham widely recognized as one of the foremost viola da gambists worldwide, to my mind it’s actually Richard Egarr’s harpsichord exploration and exceptional elegance that leads the way here, for the entire opening Sonata No. 1 in G BWV 1027 is as wondrously sculptured, as delightfully crisp, as rewardingly ambient as one could ever have imagined or hoped for (the last contrapuntal movement, although not labelled as a bourrée, makes reference to this dance form by commencing with a quaver figure on the fourth beat of the bar).

Cunningham comes more to the fore within the more precisely orchestrated Sonata No. 2 in D BWV 1028, the first movement beginning with the gamba introducing a thematic fragment repeated by the harpsichord whilst the following movement includes echos and from the first one, especially of the latter half of the first movement - whereas the third movement is in the rhythm of a siciliano, followed by a fast movement in 6/8 time.

Then the sterner, more cultured, deeper-structured Sonata No. 3 in G minor BWV 1029 brings Egarr back to the spotlight. The sonata begins with a theme by the viola da gamba, which is soon joined by the harpsichord. This is driven forward with lively figuration. The middle movement, in B♭ major, allows the parts to intertwine even more, ending with the allegro, which begins with repeated notes in the gamba part soon to be taken up by the lower harpsichord part.

Closing these works - from the late 1730s and early 1740s - on the sweeping three-part elegance of Organ Trio Sonata No. 3 in D minor BWV 527 and the stand alone brilliance of the Cunningham-arranged Bach, J S: Partita in A minor for solo flute, BWV1013, recorded at the United Church of New Marlborough, Southfield, Massachusetts, in November 2017, this stunningly opulent recording is one that could even be heard in homes across the world this Holiday season.

Sarah Cunningham, viola da gamba Jane Julier, 2003, after Bertrand.

Richard Egarr, harpsichord David Rubio, Duns Tew (Oxford), 1977, after Taskin (from the collection of Peter Sykes).

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