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GRAMOPHONE (05/2023)
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Reviewer :
William Yeoman

Surely this is the first recording devoted solely to the works for viola da gamba and keyboard by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714-88) and his younger brother Johann Christian (1735-82)? If so, it is inspired, a delightful footnote to an imagined account of the viola da gamba’s drawn-out demise, akin to one of the numerous attenuated appoggiaturas found throughout this wonderful music.

Of the more logical pairing, the music of JC Bach – the so-called London Bach – and that of his great friend and colleague the gamba virtuoso Carl Friedrich Abel (1723-87), there are many excellent examples. But here we have an opportunity not only to contemplate the relationship between virtuoso and composer – CPE Bach’s Abel was the brilliant gambist Ludwig Christian Hesse – but between father, son and sibling. JS Bach’s influence on both; the elder’s on the younger; the stylistic differences among the music: all variously emerge and recede among musico-rhetorical tropes, suave melodic invention, flashing figurations and subtle counterpoint.

Guido Balestracci plays two sonorous, pungent seven-string gambas, copies of 17th- and 18th-century models, while Paolo Corsi performs on two bright square pianos – a Broadwood and an anonymous Italian model from c1795 – and a Rubio harpsichord after Pascal Taskin (1769). The keyboard is subordinate in CPE Bach’s sonatas but an equal partner in JC Bach’s. This is fortuitous, as we are able better to savour Corsi’s elegant, characterful performances and the respective timbres of his instruments. Nevertheless, it is Balestracci’s extraordinary playing that takes centre stage: often wistful, often wild, always compelling.

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