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Steven Isserlis has already made a superlative recording of the Bach cello suites, so it’s no surprise that he’s now appropriated the composer’s gamba sonatas for his instrument. In his CD notes he acknowledges that the cello ‘perhaps throws up a few more questions of balance’ than arise between gamba and harpsichord, adding that ‘it is lovely for us cellists … to be able to play as lightly as possible without ever courting inaudibility.’

Unfortunately, although Isserlis does play with a wonderfully light touch, it is Richard Egarr’s filigree harpsichord that courts inaudibility, often reduced to a background tinkle by the CD’s skewed sound balance. This is more of a problem with the three Bach pieces, trio sonatas in which the harpsichord plays both the bass and obbligato lines; in contrast, both the Handel and Domenico Scarlatti sonatas were composed for solo instrument (probably violin) and continuo, so the harpsichord is supplemented here by Robin Michael’s discreet continuo cello.

This is a fine album on its own terms, but do hear the Bach sonatas on gamba too: there are excellent versions by Manson/Pinnock and Savall/Koopman among others.

Graham Lock Read the full review on Agora Classica


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