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Text of the booklet "J.S.Bach OBOENWERKE, volume 2 / ALEXEI UTKIN / HERMITAGE ORCHESTRA"

Why, judging by the survived written music versions, different bodies of performers were allowed for performing many works by composers of the Baroque epoch? What are the rules according to which the baroque instrumental ensembles were being formed? How to be about modern transcriptions of the ancient compositions? There is the only way to answer these questions, that is - to comprehend the special features of the baroque music, its key categories. The notion of trio widespread in that epoch deserves special attention here.
The baroque trio is a much wider category than trio in classical or romantic music since it indicates not the number of performers but the number and correlation of the musical tissue's fibres: two expressive melodic voices are based on harmonic foundation of the figured bass (continuo part usually performed by one, two or three musicians). Such trio mode of musical thinking was as customary and natural for baroque composers as melodies to the accompaniment - for musicians of the next epoch. Thanks to the universal principles of the trio boundaries between the genres of the baroque instrumental music are transparent: one triple-voiced basis may be realized by varied bodies of performers.
Trio-thinking has become a concentrated expression of the spirit of baroque ensemble playing - artistically easy "conversation" of several musicians where each has equal possibilities to show his/her skills and individuals. In such co-creation of a group of baroque instrumentalists the composer himself is just the first among equals: he assigns the themes for musical intercourse, lays down the rules, but doesn't deprive the colleagues-musicians of creative initiative. Modern musicians also join with the dialogue of the author and the performers submitting for the listeners' judgment their own interpretations of the chef-d'oeuvres by the great masters of the past.
The works by J. S. Bach (1685 - 1750), included in this album, - very diverse both in style and in mood - present different aspects of the composer's instrumental music. Different is also the degree of easiness which the performers venture in their interpretations of Bach's works. In the C-major Overture (BWV 1066) - also known by the alternative title "The Orchestral Suite" #1 - they follow the text precisely. In the G-minor Sonata (BWV 1030b) they reconstruct the incompletely preserved author's version. In the D-minor Double Violin Concerto (BWV 1043) they suggest their own transcription of the work. But despite any distinctions we recognize the hand of the greatest baroque master in every bar of his music.
The creative heritage of the composer provides food for meditation. Nevertheless the unique Bachian reading of the standard baroque principle of the trio helps to explain a lot both to the listeners and to the performers.
The C-major Overture is nothing but a dance-suite in the "French style", music for the theater though written not for a particular ballet show but for a fancied play which the composer is performing in his imagination (naming his dancing suites "overtures" after the title of the first, biggest and mostly full-scaled part, Bach follows the tradition that had been formed earlier). It seems to be the first of four Bach's works of the genre which fact is proved not so much by the dating of the manuscript (the earliest source of Bach's Overtures: 1723 - 1724) as by the musical peculiarities of the composition. Demonstrating delightful flexibility of the rhythm and diversity of melodic motions Bach reproduces in his C-major Suite the main features of classic French style which had been formed at the court of Louis XIV, Le Roi Soleil. Hence the preference given to the traditional French ball-room dances, the prevalence of the "alternative" (double) dances over single ones and specific combinations of instruments.
However already in the first part of the Suite, in the Overture (originally in the French court ballet it used to accompany the entrance of the King into the ball-room), the traditional genre elements are supplemented with Bach's own original ideas. The Overture develops beyond a full-scale introduction to the dances and becomes a complicated, large-scale and self-sufficing concert piece full of vivid, picturesque collation of sonorities. Thus strong in the French way, having the distinct design of the upper tune (the unison of the first violins and two oboes) orchestral tutti combines in the slow parts of the Overture with the showy central section written in tempo rapidamente similar to the corresponding parts of Vivaldi's and Bach's own concertos: sonorous ritournelles in fugatos alternate with graceful buoyant episodes assigned for traditional French trio - two oboes and a bassoon. The bassoon's part is interpreted with boldness characteristic of Bach: not being satisfied with the usual role of a modest harmonic ground the bassoon's part develops into a self-sufficient brilliant melodic line as important as the melodies of the oboes.
The choice and arrangement of the dancing parts of the Suite are remarkable for refined taste and sense of musical dramaturgy. The stately-restrained and at the same time fluent, liquid courante, embodying the solemnity and grace of a court ball, is followed by the exquisite gavotte - a simpler dance traditionally connected with the images of pastoral, serene relaxation, heavenly bliss. The next, central couple of dances is put together with remarkable wit. Forlana - a Venice dance of Slavic origin - had gotten in the fashion fairly late, after a Frenchman A. Kampra used it in his "opera-ballet" "Gallant Europes" (1697) to reproduce the atmosphere of the Venice carnival. To the music of the "folk" forlana stylized scenes of ardent, passionate courtship were being played. And just after it Bach introduces prim courtly menuet abound with reverences. After the "piquant", balancing on the brink of decorum forlana amorous flirtation of the menuet enclosed within the stern frame of the court etiquette arises. The ball ends with one more pair of dances. The sweeping melodic gestures of bourree contrast with the smooth and more elegant steps of the final passepied - the dance which often accompanied the wedding scenes.
Adherence to all the conventionalities of the genre nevertheless does not prevent the author from realization of his own ideas. Thus the abundance of the "alternative" dances in the Suite is not just a tribute to the past. Like one brilliant dancing couple sometimes solos at a ball arousing admiration of all others, familiar to us by the Overture elegant trio of the wood-wind group stands out against the united sounding of the instrumental ensemble. Wisely and systematically in the German way using the means of traditional dancing music Bach in artistic form presents a kind of philosophy of a court festivity.
The first entry of the trio in the second gavotte lends exquisiteness and charm to this ball-dance: fluent, running melodies of the soloing oboes are heard at the background of graceful but stylishly-martial trumpets among the strings. On the contrary in the second menuet the soloing trio "retires from the stage to have a rest" and leaves the strings "to bow in the dance". But in the second bourree - the only minor-key dance of all the Suite - trio of the wind-instruments sounds in absolute loneliness: having renounced the splendour of the fashionable celebration it takes us away into the world of poetical dreams and serene melancholy. And at last returning of the trio into the ball-room in the second passepied positively changes the mood of the festivity which is nearing the end: the graceful dance rounding of oboes' melodies is applied in exquisite counterpoint upon the theme of the first passepied traced by the strings. Avoiding the classic "final" Bach comes in the end of the Overture to a marvelous harmony of dream and reality, solemnity and gentle lyricism, strict etiquette and free fantasy.
Sonata BWV 1030b is an example characteristic of J. S. Bach's works, where a composition for two instruments is rightfully marked in the manuscript as a trio. While in most baroque sonatas the role of the clavecin-player was confined to improvising the accompaniment (on the basis of the figured bass), Bach writes out the clavier's part in full - as two impressive melodic voices competing with the soloist on equal.
Special problem of the Sonata BWV 1030b is the choice of the melodic instrument. The only version of the composition which has come down to us in full is the flute one in B-minor key (BWV 1030, 1736 - 1737). In an earlier, dated more likely by the Kothen period, G-minor version of the Sonata (BWV 1030a; titled trio) the part of the melodic instrument is lost. Obviously the late, flute version appeared as a result of transposing the initial variant into the key more suitable for the flute. In its turn the G-minor key and some performing peculiarities of the melodic instrument's part make it possible to suggest that initially the Sonata was intended for the oboe.
The reconstructed oboe version essentially expands and makes more precise our idea of the composition which until recently was known in the latest version only. The flute is not the oboe: tender voice of this lively instrument gives a tendency rather to light and pleasant melancholy than to more deep feelings. Serious, strong, passionate music of the Sonata BWV 1030 stands separate from the rest of Bach's flute repertoire both by duration and by inner scale. It might be more proper for the oboe. This is right for the lengthful first part with its intonation -- moving and at the same time full of noble dignity; and for the caressing, lighted up, lyric siciliana with its richly decorated melody; and for the vivid, original final consisting of two contrasting sections: the restrained but forceful three-voiced fuga moves here on to the vigorous and dynamic jig.
The choice of the soloing timbre in Bach's music influences not only the acoustic colouring of a composition, but its meaning itself. We should give full credit to the boldness of modern performers who have suggested their own transcription of such a popular and significant Bach's opus as the D-minor Double Violin Concerto (BWV 1043). The story of the Double Concerto's creation illustrates perfectly well the connection between this popular in the Baroque epoch genre with the "trio-thinking". The earliest source of the composition (1730-1731) contains the parts of two soloing violins and continuo - three basic elements of musical tissue; only by 1750-s the parts of "ripienists" - the members of the ensemble who supplement and support the sounding of the soloing group - joined this original trio. The idea to trust the part of the second soloist to an oboe is paradoxical, it produces unexpected effect which becomes especially noticeable when this transcription is compared with the original Bach's version for two violins.
The pursuit of synthesis of traditional polyphonic writing with virtuosity of Italian concert style is one of the distinctive features of Bach's instrumental music. In the D-minor Concerto these principles achieve an exceptionally organic merging. The soloists' parts are related to each other in this unique composition. Constantly interchanging their themes the two violins again and again cross their melodic lines; sometimes they are tangled into a tight knot, sometimes one of the soloists recedes to the background braiding his runs into tender and delicate lacy design around the main melody. For all this, the polyphonic methods remain nearly unnoticed: the listeners are completely engrossed by the lively, dynamic music.
The relationship of soloists' parts is supported by the timbre similarity of the ensemble consisting of strings only; its ponderable melodious sounding in the ritournelles of the extreme parts has become a kind of "visiting-card" of the Concerto. The feeling of closeness and homogeneity of the texture achieves its culmination in the final which last bars make an impression of a perfect unison. Only in the middle slow part the music tissue "breathes": the ripienists "take a rest" during the numerous pauses.
The oboe's timbre as if "touches up" one of the main melodic lines of the Concerto and thus attracts additional attention to it. The perception foreshortening changes: the multilayered character of the musical tissue becomes more distinct, virtuosity of the composer in drawing polyphonic design - more visible, the soloists' parts are differentiated more clearly. And eventually it must be noted that performing such a complicated violin solo is a unique phenomenon for the oboe; taking to heart the efforts required of the soloist-virtuoso we more acutely perceive Bach's music precisely as a concerto - that is as a composition which requires the highest intensity of all musicians' skills and feelings.
Comprehension of the baroque trio's nature takes us beyond the limits of Bach's instrumental music. The question arises of the more profound sense of trio-principle for the great composer who was seeking the ultimate idea as well in his music creation. That's why it will be not out of place also to remind that in Bach's sacred musical compositions (cantatas, organ chorals, B-minor Mass) the trio-texture often appears as a symbolic incarnation of the Holy Trinity (the Union of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost in the Divine Being); and various "duets of harmony" point out the second of the Holy Trinity's hypostases - God's Son who is a part of God Father's Divine Being…
One should not think that each time using the standard for the Baroque epoch principle of trio the great composer intended to create musical image of the Holy Trinity. But as no one else Bach knew the remarkable ability of music to expose the very gist of complex theological doctrines in comprehensible clear form, to testify to the perfect beauty and the great truth of the Christian faith. Bach's compositions may be simple and sophisticated, sacred and secular, serious and light. But the composer never stopped to thoroughly believe that God's image is alive in any kind of music.

Roman Nassonov, translation by Irina Doronina

Text of the booklet "J.S.Bach OBOENWERKE, volume 2 / ALEXEI UTKIN / HERMITAGE ORCHESTRA"


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