Although there is no evidence that the violoncello piccolo ever substituted for the gamba in 18th-century performances of these sonatas, Audrey Cienniwa makes an excellent case for adopting this five-stringed instrument, which Bach himself readily used elsewhere in his oeuvre. In contrast to the gamba’s subtle expressive nuances, Cienniwa’s violoncello piccolo has a rich, dark-chocolate sonority well suited to expressive slow movements such as the rapt andantes of BWV1027 and 1028; but it loses out here in achieving clarity in the realisation of Bach’s life-enhancing contrapuntal interplay, particularly in the powerful three-voice fugal finale of BWV1027 and the equivalent movement of BWV1029.
These performances rarely disappoint, however. The Cienniwas are uncomplicated, instinctive musicians with a sure technical command, sound stylistic sense and a remarkable musical rapport. They play the jubilant concertante-like second movement of BWV1027 and the spirited opening Vivace of BWV1029 with vivid characterisation, exhilarating spontaneity and all the requisite verve and drive, and their reading of the central Adagio of BWV1029 is poignant and profoundly expressive. Their inspired inclusion, as makeweights, of aria arrangements from two of Bach’s cantatas sets this disc apart from most of its competitors. The recording is full and resonant, with the harpsichord sound somewhat unnaturally beefed-up.