Music Reviews

Review of ‘B.ACH’ from TRPTK

An intriguing release

Who is scared of Bach? According to his very personal liner notes, Kersten McCall, principal flautist of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, was. A youth trauma? “This is not Bach” said the jury when Kersten, aged 12, played a Bach Flute Sonata at the National Youth Competition in Germany. Now, many years later, Kersten leads fellow RCO flautists, Julie Moulin, Maryia Semotyuk-Schlaffke, and freelance flautist, Maria Cristina Gonzàlez, in a seemingly ‘All Bach’ repertoire with the assistance of violinist Tjeerd Top, Associate Concertmaster and cellist Benedikt Enzler, both of the same Concertgebouw Orchestra, complemented by the versatile, Russian born Olga Matieva, at the harpsichord, and last but not least with Paul Frick, member of ‘Tangerine Dream’ to electronically underscore that the programme ‘is not Bach’.  An intriguing ‘troupeau’ for an intriguing release.

Like only a handful of labels that continue to produce at the sharp end of high-end music making, TRPTK’s founder (and magician) Brendon Heinst, specializes in not per se market conform productions, but otherwise aiming at recording and delivering quality, that are sonically as well as musically of the highest order. And this release, however cryptic it may seem, is no exception.

From Bach to Ach that isn’t B.ACH?

Being so critical towards Bach no doubt allowed McCall to have a closer look at the structural side of the scores and to rearrange, or rather, to fix and ‘complete’ what would help an interpreter to find its way through difficulties or incongruencies posed by it. Reason enough to re-arrange the almost impossible Partita for solo flute by adding a harpsichord, thus creating much-needed breathing space for the flautist. 

Calling, furthermore, the piano part of the C major Sonata into question, casting doubt on its origin, gave Kersten sufficient reason to adapt the score by re-writing the accompaniment. In a similar vein the Flute Sonata in C major, BWV 1033 (and not 1035 as mentioned in the liner notes) is beautifully transposed for violin, cello and harpsichord.

However, to underline the notion: This is not Bach, Kersten has added ‘Zifix’, short for an unpronounceable German swear word, in which a stand-off between no less than all four flautists and a harpsichord in remembrance of the B-minor Mass’ crucifixes, to arrive at track 11: ‘Ach’, as in the Cantata ‘Ach Herr, mich armen Sünder BWV 135’, (Ah Lord, poor sinner that I am), a short intermezzo in the programme, leading further on to the most radical intervention taken from Bach’s final score: Et Expecto, in an electronically transformed reconstruction by McCall of a five-voice acapella part of the same Mass, scored for flute, alto flute and bass flute. Amazing! Be warned.  

Exceptional playing by all.

For many, the simple crux of the matter will be: How does it sound? Well, I can be pretty brief on that. These are all first-rate musicians, playing on first-rate instruments, and recorded as though they are playing for you in your listening environment. Better still, as if you are sitting in the Waalse Kerk in Amsterdam, The Netherlands (The church of the Protestant Walloons and later the French Huguenots, who had fled to Protestant Holland). No matter the pecking order in the Concertgebouw Orchestra’s flute section, I found all three playing, like the rest of their colleague musicians, exceptionally well.

To this, it ought to be added that Brendon Heinst’s engineering is at an equal artistic level, giving the players sufficient air around them, cleverly using the church’s acoustics, whilst avoiding disturbing reflections from empty-church walls. 

The ultimate in cultural expression.

Although there is much to enjoy for everyone, I’m convinced that in its deeper essence, this release is not for casual listening. It goes beyond sonic and musical expression. It hides elements that seem to lift it to a higher, spiritual level, comparable to Mozart’s masonic-inspired ‘Magic Flute’, by using, for instance, the ‘magic’ number of three flutes in the Sonata in C major, BWV 1005. I must add though that there is no such mention in the liner notes. Nonetheless, Kersten McCall has produced a score with a real feeling for what Bach may have intended for the incomplete parts.

In whatever way one looks at and listens to it, there is an intellectual question mark hanging over this magical release, keeping your mind and spirit busy long after the final chords have ended. For me, it’s the ultimate in cultural expression. Kersten McCall should be pleased with himself and his musical partners.

Blangy-le-Château, Normandy, France.

Copyright © 2023 Adrian Quanjer and

Written by

Adrian Quanjer

Adrian Quanjer is a site reviewer at HRAudio, with many years of experience in classical music. He writes from his country retreat at Blangy-le-Château, France. As a regular concertgoer, he prefers listening to music in the highest possible resolution to recreate similar involvement at home. He is eager to share his thoughts with like-minded melomaniacs at NativeDSD.


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