J.S Bach: Music for Oboe and Harpsichord

£12.00

J. S. Bach’s g minor sonata BWV 1030b is perhaps better known in its later version for flute and harpsichord where it was re-cast in b minor (BWV 1030). For the earlier g minor version only the harpsichord part remains and it is a matter of conjecture which instrument Bach really intended. Of all his  flute works Bach’s b minor sonata is the most ambitious, and played on the oboe the epic nature of the piece is even more evident.

Whilst being blessed with many wonderful obligato parts in the cantatas, the g minor sonata is the only large scale solo work for oboe players left by Bach.

If BWV 1030 can exist in both oboe and flute versions, why can’t other pieces by Bach be similarly versatile? The remainder of the disc includes the often arranged trio sonata for organ, BWV 529 in C major, the flute sonatas BWV 1020, 1031 and 1033 and the harpsichord Prelude and Fugue in c minor BWV 871 from the Well-Tempered Clavier, Book II.

The authorship of the flute sonata BWV 1033 is called into question because of the style and quality of the basso continuo part. A theory, proposed by musicologist Robert Marshall, is that Bach wrote the flute part as an unaccompanied piece, and that either a son or a student of J. S. Bach added the accompaniment at a later stage. We therefore present the work here as an unaccompanied sonata, echoing the genre that Bach developed with his unaccompanied violin and ‘cello sonatas.

Gail Hennessy and Nicholas Parle first played together in London in 1986. They discovered a strong musical rapport and their decision to record these Bach sonatas using oboe and harpsichord stems from their performances over the years of the "big" g minor sonata (BWV 1030b), a challenging work that, like much great music, reveals more and more with each playing.

SKU: SIGCD034

What people are saying

"…Gail Hennessy plays with a beautifully rounded tone … Nicholas Parle comes into his own with the C minor prelude and fugue…"

Early Music News

    "… a very good player she is indeed; fine phrasing matched by perfect tuning. Parle is an excellent partner"

Early Music Review

      "… the technical quality of the performances is excellent; the performers have played together for fifteen years, and thus have good rapport and knowledge of each other’s styles"

Ludwigvanweb

Gail Hennessy and Nicholas Parle
Oboe and Harpsichord

Release date:8th Nov 2001
Order code:SIGCD034
Barcode: 635212003428

  1. Andante – Sonata in G minor, BWV 1030b – [8:07]
  2. Siciliano – – [3:34]
  3. Presto-[Gigue] – – [5:53]
  4. Andante-Presto – Sonata in C major, BWV 1033 – [1:34]
  5. Allegro – – [3:23]
  6. Adagio – – [1:43]
  7. Menuet I & II – – [2:48]
  8. Allegro – Sonata in G minor, BWV 1020 – [4:10]
  9. Adagio – – [2:56]
  10. Allegro – – [5:10]
  11. Prelude – Prelude and Fugue in c minor, BWV 871, from The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book II – [4:11]
  12. Fugue – – [2:21]
  13. Allegro moderato – Sonata in Eb major, BWV 1031 – [3:39]
  14. Siciliana – – [2:10]
  15. Allegro – – [5:04]
  16. Allegro – ?Organ? trio sonata in C major, BWV 529 – [5:04]
  17. Largo – – [5:18]
  18. Allegro – – [3:33]

Early Music Forum of Scotland News

The American Baroque oboist Gail Hennessy has a warm full tone and an impressive dexterity on what in less skilled hands can be a treacherous instrument, and if on occasion I felt we could have done with more overt expression, these performances are never less than musical and frequently engaging. As is essential in performances of Bach¹s chamber music, the harpsichordist Nicholas Parle is also a very active protagonist, making a valuable contribution to the success of this recording. While some of the works recorded are of doubtful attribution, they certainly all sound good enough to be by the master and certainly deserve to be recorded. The finest music though is the first piece on the disc, Bach¹s G-minor sonata BWV1030b, a work of real substance and variety, and which in beautifully played by Hennessy and Parle.

D James Ross

Review from Seen and Heard

This recording contains an interesting selection of works for oboe and harpsichord by Johann Sebastian Bach. Not all of them were written for these instruments; the performers have arranged some other works to suit them. The G minor sonata, a challenging work, is most likely for oboe, even though it exists only in score for the flute. And, with the exception of the Trio Sonata for organ, the other works are not even necessarily by Bach. As with several of his chamber music works, his authorship is not proven.

Nevertheless, the music on this disc is indeed interesting. One high point is the performance for solo oboe of the flute sonata in C major. Yet this, too, is an arrangement – Gail Hennessy has removed the basso continuo and plays this alone, under the theory that Bach originally wrote it as an unaccompanied piece. It works relatively well in this manner, although the oboe is not an instrument that naturally lends itself to solo performances.

Overall, this disc has one major weakness: the balance between the oboe and harpsichord is such that the keyboard part is often masked. The music was recorded with the oboe at centre stage, and the harpsichord somewhat in the background. This is especially noticeable in the Trio Sonata, where the harpsichord plays two of the three voices. In addition, Hennessy’s instrument does not always have the nicest tone – it can be harsh and abrasive in the higher register at strong volumes. This gives the recording a somewhat uncomfortable feeling.

This is indeed odd, because a few months ago I had the pleasure of reviewing another disc by Signum which was recorded in a totally opposite manner. The recording of Bach’s sonatas for viola da gamba and harpsichord, by Alison Crum and Laurence Cummings, is brilliant for its recording. I wrote, "Most recordings of these sonatas feature the harpsichord in a very subservient role – the gamba dominates, and the harpsichord goes about its business in the background. Here, the harpsichord and gamba are both on the same plane – after all, in the first two sonatas, which are really trio sonatas, the harpsichord is playing two-thirds of the music. This is a very gutsy choice, on the part of the performers and/or the producer; yet it is entirely judicious." Alas, here I am very disappointed that the same label did not use the same style of recording. This would have compensated for the other weaknesses on this disc.

This is an interesting disc, and one that is certainly unique.

Kirk McElhearn

Music Web – August 2002

Gifted musician that he was, J. S. Bach wrote only twenty sonatas for solo instruments, and of these, three are of dubious origin. Twelve of the twenty however have obligato harpsichord accompaniment. No authentic manuscript copies of solo oboe works survive or are documented, all the above being originally intended for other instruments. BWV 1030b, 1031 and 1033 were written for the flute, whilst BWV1020 is better known when played on the violin, although its attribution to Bach is spurious. This practice was common in Bach’s day, i.e. to utilise works from one medium to another, particularly when faced with the availability or otherwise of the instrument for which it was written.

BWV1030b has an autograph copy for the flute in B minor, but from the style it is tempting to deduce that the oboe version pre-dated the flute (in other words was the authentic original) and Jonathan Baxendale in the booklet gives a cogent argument for this. Certainly, the more plangent tone quality of the oboe gives more timbre and body to the piece than would be obtainable on the flute. However, the very nature of the oboe in Bach’s day was even more strident, and could thus have been pre-disposed to the arrangement for the gentler flute as being more suitable a partner for the harpsichord.

BWV529 is the only other accompanied work on the disc to be unmistakably of J. S. Bach’s authorship; it is an arrangement of the fifth Trio Sonata for Organ. These were supposedly composed for Bach’s eldest son, Wilhelm Friedemann to consolidate his organ technique. This piece has a concerto-like effect and structure of three movements, Allegro-Largo-Allegro, recalls the Italianate composers such as Vivaldi and is quite a lively sonata.

The other G minor sonata, BWV1020, is of more doubtful authenticity, as are the following oboe pieces. This one is included usually with other violin sonatas, half of them of possibly spurious attribution. Several sources have attributed the work to Carl Philip Emanuel Bach, but this is still uncertain. The sonata is in three movement Allegro-Adagio-Allegro form.

The E flat sonata, BWV1031, is again uncertain in origin, the manuscript bearing a title page written most certainly by Carl Philip Emanuel; this however indicated his father as the composer, as did another source. This again is in the three movement form of Allegro-Siciliano-Allegro.

The remaining oboe piece, the sonata in C BWV1033, is for unaccompanied oboe. This has been "restored" to what was considered the original intention of a solo instrument from an arrangement with continuo bass and harpsichord obbligato in the Minuets. The movements are certainly unusual and are thought to have been by Johann Sebastian’s hand, being Andante-Presto, Allegro, Adagio, and Minuets I & II. This was surely an odd way to complete a sonata?

The other offering on the disc is a performance of the Prelude and Fugue in C minor BWV871, from the Well-Tempered Klavier Book II, played, as is proper, as a solo work on the harpsichord.

One must say at once that the technical quality of the performances is excellent; the performers have played together for 15 years, and thus have good rapport and knowledge of each other’s styles. The baroque flute has a much more rounded tone than its more modern reedy successor, and Gail Hennessy is a practised exponent of the instrument with good phrasing and breath control. She specialises in the baroque oboe, and teaches the instrument at several centres of music. Nicholas Parle is an internationally known harpsichordist, and is Professor of harpsichord at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London. Why then, given the impeccable pedigrees of the soloists does this disc not appeal more to me? The first reason is that in reviewing it, one listens to the whole disc throughout; this becomes somewhat tedious in terms of the necessarily somewhat strident tone of the oboe, and the "clanginess" of the harpsichord, and it is a disc better dipped into than heard at one sitting. Secondly, I found the performances too "cool", almost reserved in their nature. I enjoy Bach, and the one item that gave me pleasure was BWV529, the transcription from the organ work. This had some purpose in its execution, and apart from a very largo largo, made me wish that the approach here had been present in the other items. In these others, the speeds were deliberate, and the works tended to drag. This tendency was also present in the harpsichord solo prelude and fugue, both movements being of approximately the same speed; thus the prelude’s allegro was more moderato, and the fugue’s tempo was also nondescript – not as maestoso as I would have wished. I was following this in the Tovey edition; I assume Nicholas Parle was using the same, as the performance was faithful to the edition. This brings one more slight quibble into the issue; no references to the editions or the manuscripts used are given, or are they the result of research by the participants? It would be nice to know.

So, a disc to appeal more to oboists than generalists, and one not for continuous listening. Apart from my comment on the origins of the music the booklet is well presented and scholarly.

John Portwood

Music Web – June 2002

This recording contains an interesting selection of works for oboe and harpsichord by Johann Sebastian Bach. Not all of them were written for these instruments; the performers have arranged some other works to suit them. The G minor sonata, a challenging work, is most likely for oboe, even though it exists only in score for the flute. And, with the exception of the Trio Sonata for organ, the other works are not even necessarily by Bach. As with several of his chamber music works, his authorship is not proven.

Nevertheless, the music on this disc is indeed interesting. One high point is the performance for solo oboe of the flute sonata in C major. Yet this, too, is an arrangement – Gail Hennessy has removed the basso continuo and plays this alone, under the theory that Bach originally wrote it as an unaccompanied piece. It works relatively well in this manner, although the oboe is not an instrument that naturally lends itself to solo performances.

Overall, this disc has one major weakness: the balance between the oboe and harpsichord is such that the keyboard part is often masked. The music was recorded with the oboe at centre stage, and the harpsichord somewhat in the background. This is especially noticeable in the Trio Sonata, where the harpsichord plays two of the three voices. In addition, Hennessy’s instrument does not always have the nicest tone – it can be harsh and abrasive in the higher register at strong volumes. This gives the recording a somewhat uncomfortable feeling.

This is indeed odd, because a few months ago I had the pleasure of reviewing another disc by Signum which was recorded in a totally opposite manner. The recording of Bach’s sonatas for viola da gamba and harpsichord, by Alison Crum and Laurence Cummings, is brilliant for its recording. I wrote, "Most recordings of these sonatas feature the harpsichord in a very subservient role – the gamba dominates, and the harpsichord goes about its business in the background. Here, the harpsichord and gamba are both on the same plane – after all, in the first two sonatas, which are really trio sonatas, the harpsichord is playing two-thirds of the music. This is a very gutsy choice, on the part of the performers and/or the producer; yet it is entirely judicious." Alas, here I am very disappointed that the same label did not use the same style of recording. This would have compensated for the other weaknesses on this disc.

This is an interesting disc, and one that is certainly unique. The music is quite attractive, but the recording puts the harpsichord too much in the background, giving a lack of balance that is unattractive. Unfortunately, this original disc does not have enough qualities to recommend it.

Kirk McElhearn