(as played by Frank Peter Zimmermann (violin) and Enrico Pace (piano)

Heard on Radio 3’s Building a Library assessment of Bach’s (accompanied) violin sonatas. Caroline Gill (who reviews for Gramophone) said these pieces were effectively trio sonatas (with the solo instrument and two independent hands of the keyboard making up the three parts), and claimed they were the forerunner of the classical sonata, where the two instruments were given equal weight rather than the keyboard relegated to “figured bass”.  She also made a great case for using the piano rather than harpsichord by choosing this recording, which brings out the incredible rhythmic vitality – Pace’s very light touch playing works brilliantly here.

Bach wrote these sonatas after he’d moved to Cothen and taken possession of the latest and greatest harpsichord, a huge improvement on the instruments he’d known before, so it’s likely he would have embraced the piano as well if it had been available. Gill says that the first sonata is the technical masterpiece of the set. However she highlights in particular the adagio of the fifth sonata in F minor as “crystallizing everything [Bach] can say emotionally into just 27 bars of perfect simplicity”. The real melody, she says “isn’t the most obvious one in the piano part here – or even the beautiful bottom line in the double stopping of the violin – for me, it’s the notion that all three of those lines might actually just be an accompaniment, and that all they’re doing is supporting a fourth melody, singing over the top, that you can only imagine”.