GMCD 7207 – Back to Bach – Music for Flute and Harp
Sally Stocks – Flute, Hugh Webb – Harp
PAN MAGAZINE – MARCH 2001
The disc contains: JS Bach’s Eb, G minor and E major sonatas; CPE Bach’s E major sonata; the D major sonata of JCF Bach. Back to JS Bach, it also includes: the Air from the Orchestral Suite No 3 arranged by Bert Mayer; Hugh Webb’s transcription of the Largo from the Concerto for Harpsichord and String Orchestra; and, slightly curiously, Gounod’s Meditation on the First Prelude of Bach (Ave Maria).
When one listens to a piece of music, one inevitably brings to it a certain amount of personal baggage and I might as well declare mine before I start. I first heard Sally Stocks play when she was still at school and I remember her as a promising and musical young player; she has certainly put a few crotchets under her belt since then.
The Bachs, especially the heavenly JS, have been dear to me ever since I first played the Eb sonata at a concert in my schooldays some decades ago. Since then I have tried to come to terms with baroque music through Quantz, CPE Bach, Hotteterre and Corelli; modem commentators, scholars, performers and I still ask ourselves, ‘do we really know how most musicians of the time played their music?’
I certainly don’t think that baroque music must be played on a baroque flute with a reproduction keyboard instrument. Bach would surely be happy with any combination.
The partnership of flute and harp is a happy and pleasant one but I couldn’t help feeling quite a lot of the time on this recording (although Hugh plays very ably and musically) that I missed the incisive tone of a harpsichord, or even a piano, in the contrapuntal texture. Perhaps the engineers could have brought the harp forward a little.
Sally Stocks plays with a lovely fluid tone and is very comfortable with the music and its technical demands. She always sounds as if she is enjoying herself and I have enjoyed listening to the whole disc several times.
But it is one of the disadvantages of recordings that one hears the same performance again and again and, having done so, differences in our views of the music may become more apparent.
I am with Quantz regarding Adagios when he states: ‘To play an Adagio well, you must enter as much as possible into a calm and almost melancholy mood, so that you execute what you have to plays in the same state of mind as that in which the composer wrote it. A true Adagio must resemble a flattering petition. For just as anyone who wishes to request something from a person to whom he owes particular respect will scarcely achieve his object with bold and impudent threats, so here you will scarcely engage, soften and touch your listeners with a bold and bizarre manner of playing. For that which does not come from the heart does not easily reach the heart.’
Now, I am not saying that Sally Stocks plays the first movement of the E major Sonata in a ‘bold and bizarre manner’ (her playing is much too refined) but I do find it, slightly inappropriately, almost merry (I know it’s marked non tanto). I also found, after several playings, that I really didn’t like all the short (and sometimes very short) appoggiaturas, because it is surely the function of the ornament that it introduces a dissonance with the bass that needs a little time to establish. This brevity also, sometimes, led to a tendency for some of the trills to start before the beat.
After the nit-picking I must say I really enjoyed listening to this recording and shall continue to do so. Try it, enjoy it and make up your own mind!