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GRAMOPHONE ( 05/ 2019)
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Reviewer: Mark Seow

‘The Trio Sonata Project’ takes inspiration from the Baroque practice of arranging pre-existing music by other composers for a different set of instruments. As recorder player Walter van Hauwe emphasises, this is something that Bach did himself – borrowing from Vivaldi, Pergolesi and others – giving each his own touch without affecting the ‘message’ of the original works. But to touch Bach; when does admiration bleed into hubris? When do magpies morph into vultures? Charming booklet notes try to set this to rights: in an imaginary conversation, presumably over Zimmermann’s famous brew of coffee, Bach gives keyboardist Sergio Ciomei his blessing. This quasi-blind date (‘will he really come?’), while hovering on the absurd (‘Don’t ever stop, Sergio. You should produce, transcribe, play, record, teach and spread the news’), sets up an interesting transhistorical context for the project.

The album is a mixed bag. Tripla Concordia’s version of BWV1039 – a historical arrangement by Bach himself – is particularly successful. Quietly menacing in the Andante, the two voice flutes open out to incisive playing that sways with imagination in the Presto. The arrangement of BWV997 for alto recorder and harpsichord is less convincing. Ciomei’s harpsichord-playing in the Prelude lacks lushness. The Sarabande also is, unfortunately, heavy-handed. However, van Hauwe’s elegant phrasing does the job for a teasingly short moment: the sunlight of the relative major appears in smiling inevitability – almost distracting from the strange abruptness in the continuo-playing. In tempo, the Gigue and Double lie on the safe side of exciting. Yet superb dynamic control in van Hauwe’s recorder makes for unpredictable intensity.

So, to borrow Ciomei’s analogy, would this album get a second date? Yes. It had its hiccups: a slightly gruff table manner dotted with some dull moments. Next time, I would expect what were flashes of imagination to pervade the conversation, and something that extra bit special to seal a kiss.

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