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Bach, Robert Hill, and the Lute-Harpsichord

Sonatas for Viola da Gamba

Robert Hill is arguably one of world’s finest harpsichordists and interpreters par excellence of Johann Sebastian Bach’s keyboard works. His recent Ars Musici recording with gambist Ekkehard Weber of Bach’s complete viola da gamba sonatas is simply terrific.

There are many recordings available of the sonatas, but none interpreted on the gut-strung version of the harpsichord known as a lautenwerck, or “lute-harpsichord.” Hill’s performance is dynamic, expressive, and full of wit, while Weber’s is the epitome of beautiful gamba playing.

Works for Lute-Harpsichord

At the time of J.S. Bach’s death, an inventory of his possessions noted that he owned two lute-harpsichords, leading historians to suppose that he must have composed for the instrument. And while no examples from the 18th Century survive, modern harpsichord builders have successfully reconstructed them.

Robert Hill has recorded much of Bach’s harpsichord repertoire for the Haenssler Classic label, which includes an entire CD devoted to music that is thought to have been written specifically for the lute-harpsichord. Hill’s performance is a memorable one filled with many lovely surprises.

Goldberg Variations

Much like the collaboration with gambist Ekkehard Weber, Hill’s live recording of a 1993 performance of the Goldberg Variations is unprecedented. What initially began as an inaugural recital to celebrate his appointment as professor at the Musikhochschule in Freiburg, Germany, ended up one of the most interesting recordings of the variations.

After many years of listening to it, I continue to admire Hill’s powerful interpretation, individual style, and courage for releasing an unedited recording of one of the most challenging Bach compositions.

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