J S Bach: The Six Trio Sonatas
(BWV 525 – 530)
Nimbus NI 6403
My justification for arranging these works for two harpsichords derives from the preface to François Couperin’s L’apothéose de Lully (1725) in which he describes the manner in which he often played trio sonatas on two harpsichords:
Trios . . . can be played on two harpsichords . . . I play them with my family and pupils with very happy success, namely, by playing the first treble part and the bass on one of the harpsichords; and the second treble part and the same bass on the other harpsichord tuned to the same pitch.
For me, the experiment of arranging Bach’s Organ Trio Sonatas was too tempting to resist. The result is a transformation of these famous trio sonatas, giving them a character that is neither better nor worse than interpretations on the organ, but very different and no less exciting.
French organ music from the period of Louis XIV to the Revolution has always held fascination for performers and listeners alike. The kaleidoscope of colours, the rich and varied styles, and the sheer exuberance of the music never fail to captivate. Yet, performance practice of this music has never been fully understood. David Ponsford has spent much of his career studying this repertoire, resulting in his book ‘French Organ Music in the Reign of Louis XIV’ (Cambridge University Press, 2011). The present series of recordings on the most important historical organs in France, including the music of Guillaume-Gabriel Nivers, Louis Couperin, Nicolas-Antoine Lebégue, André Raison, Jacques Boyvin, François Couperin, Nicolas de Grigny, Louis Marchand, Louis-Nicolas Clérambault, up to composers of the Revolution such as Balbastre, Beauvarlet Charpentier and Lasceux, is therefore the fruit of many years of research by a seasoned performer whose aim is to combine technical brilliance with intellectual understanding, to bring the music alive with authority and meaning. ‘Actively engaged in Organ and Harpsichord Recitals, Recordings, Publications, Lectures and Master-Classes, Conducting and Continuo Playing’.
"Nicolas de Grigny’s Premier livre d’orgue (1699) contains the Mass and the hymns for the principal feasts of the church year. This double CD is a must-have-and it’s a whopper; the erudite liner notes are worth having in their own right. All too often the repertoire is left high and dry, without the supporting plainsong: L’école de Nivers provides the chant in a broad-based tempo, and it is refreshing to hear the inclusion of the serpent (played by Philip Humphries). The 1752 Lépine organ clings limpet-like to the west wall of Sarlat Cathedral in the haut−Dordogne and is a forgotten gem; it is well off the beaten track, and it is good to hear it recorded once again. Its ten-stop Positif, sixteen-stop (16’) Grand Orgue, two-stop Récit, Écho (a Cornet) and eight-stop Pédale (with thunderous ravalement) are resources that David Ponsford relishes, and he doesn’t hold back."
William McVicker, Choir & Organ
“The much altered Jean de Joyeuse organ was finally knocked into convincing shape by Muno in 1998. David Ponsford puts it through its paces in a fine selection of pieces from Lebégue’s giant Troisiéme livre d’orgue, together with Nivers’s Suite du premier ton. I love the tempi for the music in the giant acoustics and especially the pacing of the ornamentation, which matches the mood of the pieces - often fluttering manically in the hands of others, here it creates elegance. There’s lots to savour, including occasional nightingales and mighty ravalements. Who says the Brits can’t stump up brilliant performers of this repertoire?”
William McVicker Choir & Organ
“David Ponsford is an expert in French organ music; in 2011 Cambridge University Press published his book French Organ Music in the Reign of Louis XIV. Here he delivers fine illustrations of what is characteristic of this repertoire which is so different from everything composed elsewhere in Europe. One may assume he has extensively studied the instructions a composer like Nivers included in his organ books. We get here a thoroughly convincing interpretation of these works by Nivers and Lebègue. This is a worthy sequel to the previous discs, and one may hope that more discs will follow.”
Johan van Veen, musicweb-international.com
“As far as this recording is concerned, one has very little difficulty in understanding how people may have been drawn to church to hear the music, full of moving harmonies given magical emphasis by the use of grace notes and exquisite part-writing the choice of organ seems to be ideal. Altogether it is a bracing experience and Ponsford brings the music superbly to life.”
International Record Review
“Everything about this recording is enjoyable: the music is excellent, played by a seasoned and persuasive advocate effortlessly alternating between supple rubato and scorching grands jeux.”
“These two volumes from Nimbus Alliance, NI 6213 and NI 6225, belong very much together, and with excellent recordings and performances I can’t recommend them too highly. Once you have heard these I suspect you will soon be hooked, and after that there’s no turning back.”
“I can think of no finer disc for those who have already uncovered the secrets which make this, for its aficionados, such an absorbing period of musical history. Ponsford is a wholly unpretentious, open player, keen to communicate his own love for the music, but he is also an intensely scholarly one, finding compelling solutions to the issues of ornamentation and registration. Ponsford lets the music flow with a graceful, dance-like feel, giving plenty of high drama in the big movements and delicious delicacy in the lighter ones.”
“This is a splendid disc which shows off the many colours of the Peter Collins organ and its versatility in conveying the essential tone character both of French and German organ traditions.” Nicholas Anderson, Classic FM Magazine
“David Ponsford’s programme is exciting.” Adrian Jack, BBC Music Magazine.
“This CD admirably highlights the close relationship between French music and Bach’s compositions. Ponsford has contributed an informative and scholarly booklet. I hope this disc won’t be confined to university music departments or conservatoire organ students, as it deserves to be heard by a wider audience. Ponsford’s Bach performances have a natural simplicity of approach that is as enjoyable as the flamboyance of a Koopman. The simple registration of the C minor Fantasia is very effective; the gently varied colours of the Passacaglia work beautifully, and this piece receives a fine interpretation with some telling rubato. The French works are given dignified performances, appropriate to their sacred ethos, and there’s some stylish ornamentation.” Christopher Nickol, Gramophone.
“The scholarly David Ponsford turns out a pretty impeccable performance . . . he also includes the monumental Partita BWV 768 and gives a fine interpretation of this glorious work. Guild’s recording is crisp and very immediate with fine detailed notes. I await further organ CD's from this source with interest.” Gerald Fenech, Classical Net Review.
“David Ponsford is a sensitive and imaginative player, and brings a sober and poignant sensibility to the pavans that I think is just right. His sense of phrasing and articulation is very good too, aided in no small measure by his extensive reliance on historical fingerings . . . The pitch is A=392 and the meantone temperament is wonderful. The sound quality is very natural – not overproduced – which allows me to enjoy the timbre of these fine instruments almost as if I were playing them myself.” Robert Haskins, Harpsichord & fortepiano.
“Jacqueline Ross, playing a beautifully even-toned Andrea Amati violin of 1570... demonstrates a wide range of expressive means, embellishes tastefully and uses vibrato, as well as messe di voce and other nuances, effectively and economically... the overall impression is of committed, stylish performances that bring new insights into this repertory... David Ponsford’s harpsichord contribution is excellent.” Robin Stowell, The Strad “Wonderful playing... recommended” Early Music Review.
“The inflective grace and linear clarity achieved by Ross and Ponsford, above all in their playing of the sonatas with fully written out harpsichord accompaniment, are qualities of their musical partnership which I have admired in the preceding volumes. Ross and Ponsford play with stylistic assurance and an expressive warmth which touches my heart in much the way as composers who cultivated the Empfindsamer Stil intended. A fine achievement all round.” Nicholas Anderson, International Record Review.
“Davis and Ponsford balance expression and cleanness as well as anyone I have heard, and it is hard to imagine a better performance of these sonatas any time soon. Well done.” Kreitner, American Guide.
“It’s just that cantabile quality Alan Davis and David Ponsford bring to these beautiful new recordings . . . This, and the relative sparseness of using harpsichord accompaniment alone (and here Ponsford is as eloquent a partner as he is a soloist in the Harpsichord Suite No. 7 which ends the disc), result in deeply moving performances (perfectly captured by Paul Arden-Taylor) that gets to the heart of the matter with little fuss.” Robert Levett, International Record Review.