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SIG 034
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SIG 034

Bach - Music for Oboe & Harpsichord

The Classical Shop
release date: July 2007

Originally recorded in 2007


Gail Hennessy

baroque oboe

Nicholas Parle



St Andrews Church, Toddington, Gloucestershire

13-16 Dec 2000


John Hadden


John Hadden

Record Label




Total Time - 70:38
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Sonata in G minor, BWV 1030b

1 (Andante) 8:07
2 Siciliano 3:34
3 Presto-(Gigue) 5:53

Sonata in C major, BWV 1033

4 Andante-Presto 1:34
5 Allegro 3:23
6 Adagio 1:43
7 Menuet I & II 2:48

Sonata in G minor, BWV 1020

8 Allegro 4:10
9 Adagio 2:56
10 Allegro 5:10

Prelude and Fugue in c minor, BWV 871,

  from The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book II  
11 Prelude 4:11
12 Fugue 2:21

Sonata in Eb major, BWV 1031

13 Allegro moderato 3:39
14 Siciliana 2:10
15 Allegro 5:04

'Organ' trio sonata in C major, BWV 529

16 Allegro 5:04
17 Largo 5:18
18 Allegro 3:33

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.

"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

Seen and Heard

"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

Early Music Forum of Scotland - News

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