This recording, made in 1988 at Finchcocks in England, has received some rather scathing comments from some of my fellow music lovers at Amazon, and while admitting that this is anything but 'easy listening', I would like to try and verbalise my feeling that these two Cds are a lot better than they are sometimes given credit for. When I first purchased the set a few years ago, I too was at first somewhat shocked at the sound. John Holloway plays a gut-stringed copy of an Amati violin, tuned at a'=415 Hz, and gives a very intense, very sombre, well thought-out reading of this music, emphasizing its sheer musical genius and inventiveness but excluding anything in the way of levity or humour. If you are used to a modern violin or even a period instrument played less intensely (one might, in some places, add: less sharply), you may well react against the strictness and historicity of this sound. Davitt Moroney's harpsichord (and Bach has here written trio sonatas, so the harpsichord has a melody line in the right hand and the continuo in the left), a copy of one by Dulcken from 1743, sounds rather warmer. The engineering is good, placing Holloway firmly in the middle and Moroney to the right. The acoustics at the recording venue were, however, not ideal, and I found listening to the Cds on headphones rather more pleasing than over loudspeakers. (Perhaps I should also add that this recording only started sounding acceptable on relatively expensive hifi equipment; music like this has its price!).
In addition to the six sonatas as they are usually played, the set contains a number of additional pieces: some extra movements that Bach used in prior versions of sonata number 6 (you can programme them to listen to any one of three versions), and two sonatas for violin and basso continuo, BWV 1021 and 1023, that have long been ascribed to Bach and are really worth listening to. Holloway is accompanied on these by Davitt Moroney playing a copy of a 17th century chamber organ and Susan Sheppard on an 18th century cello.
John Holloway has been concert-master of the Taverner Players for many years and is one of England's leading period-instrument performers. Professor Davitt Moroney is well-known for his work on Bach's keyboard music, especially for his recording of 'The Art of Fugue'. They are both known for historical accuracy and meticulous performance, and I very much doubt that they would ever make a recording like this 'at sight', as one of their critics has suggested. Just listen to the detail on this recording, and you will see what work has gone into it!
If I were only allowed to possess one recording of these sonatas I would probably go for the old Deutsche Harmonia Mundi one with Sigiswald Kuijken and Gustav Leonhardt: it is much 'easier' listening. The Holloway/Moroney is a musicians' version that requires patience and a good deal of concentration to be thoroughly enjoyed.