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GRAMOPHONE (07/2015)
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Reviewer: Lindsay Kemp

Linn’s fast-building accumulation of core Baroque repertory continues here with the sonatas for violin and obbligato harpsichord, six wondrous works which never stop giving. The label’s leading Bach man, John Butt, joins Lucy Russell, leader of the Fitzwilliam Quartet and a sometime leader of several British Baroque ensembles, in performances that may appear at first to be unassuming in the light of the big names who have already recorded these pieces, but actually have much to offer that is refreshing.


Russell says in the booklet that she wants to find ‘Bach the Man…to abandon reverence, to explore “colour”, and to burrow deeply into the emotional nature of the music as well as to find and highlight Bach’s good humour and quirkiness’. These are words that could ring alarm bells for those to whom it suggests gratuitous over-interpretation, but in fact Russell and Butt’s readings are neither intrusively gimmicky nor cloyingly romantic. Russell does not attempt to seduce the listener by hiding the ‘Baroque’ nature of her violin, which is slightly wiry, even acid on occasion, but also clear, in tune (not all her rivals have been!) and always alive. What pleases above all is the forthright naturalness of her playing, never mannered but still in its way searchingly expressive. Constantly it is the balance between different interpretative elements that impresses. She is not afraid of a long line; the first movement of No 4 flows swiftly; and in movements such as the openers of Nos 1 and 5, prominent but gentle rubato brings a smoothly loving feel to the one and a rich brooding quality to the other. And while some of the faster movements are rather frenetic, there is joy in the chipper second of No 4, and the violin dances over the harpsichord with delicious variety of step in the finale of No 6. Butt’s playing provides alert, clearly articulated and muscular support, though sometimes his harpsichord is a touch big in the balance. These are immensely likable performances, and a mission accomplished, I would suggest, for Russell.


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