Bach’s three sonatas for viola da gamba sit rather well on the viola, and they are regularly used as teaching material. However, there hasn’t been a recording of the whole set on the viola for some time now; the last one I can think of (by Nobuko Imai) was released in 1998. Enter Yuko Inoue (a former student of Imai’s) and her long-standing partner Kathron Sturrock, and we have a nicely produced recording which may be on the ‘wrong’ instruments, but has been beautifully thought out and realised by both artists.
Following Imai’s lead, Inoue transposes her part up an octave, and not only where it is absolutely necessary, thus avoiding having too much of what William Primrose used to call ‘an unseemly scrubbing’ on the lower strings. Bach’s contrapuntal writing doesn’t suffer by the procedure, and the result is a viola part that develops logically and lies well on the instrument. Neither player is afraid of embellishing her part to nice effect. Inoue rightly avoids the use of high positions for its own sake, and her vibrato is appropriately discreet.
The recording was made in a warm, comfortable acoustic, my only complaint being that the viola has been somewhat spotlit, leaving the piano too much in the background, to the detriment of the polyphony. No such problem affects the rest of the disc: Inoue’s rendition of the Chaconne from the D minor Violin Partita (transposed to G minor) is magisterial, clarifying the piece’s short- and long-term structures to a high degree in an intellectually satisfying performance to which I have already returned many times.