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Bach’s Gamba Sonatas

Review by Heath Auchinachie from Classikon.

'Shaun Ng’s delicate but convincing interpretation of Bach’s sonatas ... played with greatly expressive phrasing.'

Situated in lovely Mosman, “Bach’s Gamba Sonatas” presented by Thoroughbass displayed the depth and complexity of the music written for the viola da gamba and harpsichord spanning two generations. With nuanced interpretations and a rich command of each instrument, Througbass’s Sunday afternoon concert in the Mosman Art Gallery allowed the audience an insight into music, and instruments, rarely heard.

Featuring Shaun Ng on viola da gamba and Diana Weston playing harpsichord, the concert began with the Sonata in G Major BWV 1027 by J.S. Bach, the first of his three viola da gamba sonatas. While a harmonically complex piece, both performers displayed their ability to navigate the intricacy within each movement of this sonata and accentuate the melodicism buried underneath the technical and musical challenges.

After a brief description for the audience by Diana Weston of the history behind Johann Christian Bach’s (the youngest of J.S. and Anna Magdalena’s children) gamba sonatas, they moved onto J.C. Bach’s first Sonata for Viola da Gamba and Harpsichord, one of only two works he wrote for that combination. The first thing that struck me about this sonata was the familiarity of the harpsichord introduction. After a measure or two I realised that it had been previously composed by a not-so-distant relative. While J.C. Bach was a greatly respected composer, and arguably the most successful of the Bachs, his first sonata begins with the introduction to his father’s Partita for Keyboard No.1 in B-flat Minor BWV 825, which I like to think was done as a hommage rather than plagiarising. With a playful and lyrical melody from the gamba, played with greatly expressive phrasing by Shaun Ng, the sonatas of J.C. act as a pleasant, yet stark, contrast to that of his fathers.

The rest of the concert followed in such a fashion; alternating between the sonatas of J.S. and J.C, allowing the audience to appreciate the differences in compositional style and reflect on how the era in which each was composing affected their respective musical aesthetics. Shaun Ng’s delicate but convincing interpretation of Bach’s sonatas, supported by the sympathetic accompaniment of Diana Weston, provided for a very pleasant Sunday afternoon concert and I strongly urge you to go and see their next concert in their 2018 series; Debussy’s ballet for children, the Toybox at Mosman Art Gallery December 16 (with free entry for children).