John Butt & Lucy Russell - J.S. Bach: Violin and Harpsichord Sonatas - BBC Music Magazine

Performance: 5 stars

Recording: 4 stars

Given the monumentality of the D minor Partita's concluding Chaconne, or the quicksilver brilliance of the E major's Prelude it's not entirely surprising that Bach's Sonatas for Violin and Harpsichord have tended to live in the shadow of their cousins for solo unaccompanied violin BWV 1001-6. But what a wealth of music those duo sonatas encompass! lndeed they must have meant a lot to their composer since Bach was still tinkeringwith the last of the six at the end of his life. Violinist Lucy Russell and harpsichordist John Butt play the five-movement ‘last thoughts' version including a wonderfully muscular and exuberant account of the solo harpsichord central Allegro.

Whenever Bach set out to create a collection of pieces he invariably contrived the maximum variety imaginable, and one of the abiding strengths of this new recording is its enthusiastic willingness to embrace and celebrate the diversity. The rapport between Russell and Butt is riveting, and their meeting of musical minds leaves no detail undercharacterised. How insouciantly the violin steals in above Butt's fluid introduction to the B minor Sonata, and the A major's dolce is as deliciously coy as a twosome on their first date - the trills executed with fluttering delicacy and the momentary minor key cloud exquisitely inflected.

Very occasionally a hint of strain threatens Russell's tone, and the recorded balance doesn't always feel consistent in an otherwise beautifully clean recording; but don't hesitate: for sheer freshness, insight and life-enhancing joy, this newcomer goes to the top of the class alongside Rachel Podger and Trevor Pinnock, Andrew Manze and Richard Egarr.

BBC Music Magazine
01 September 2015