Magazine article Gramophone

BACH BY OTHER MEANS: William Yeoman Finds Bach's Music Shining Brightly Whether Played on Guitars, Recorder, Accordion or a Cretan Iyra

Magazine article Gramophone

BACH BY OTHER MEANS: William Yeoman Finds Bach's Music Shining Brightly Whether Played on Guitars, Recorder, Accordion or a Cretan Iyra

Article excerpt

Every arrangement of one of JS Bach's works expresses, as does every performance of it--and what is a performance, if not a kind of arrangement?--a hitherto hidden aspect of the work's character, whether subtle or strong. That's one thing the following recent recordings, of arrangements and transcriptions of Bach's music for diverse instruments, have in common. With the exception of the recorder, the other is how remote these instruments are from those of Bach's time. Even Michael Poll's seven-string guitar, while evoking the sound world of the Baroque lute, in no way attempts to mimic its distinctive qualities.

Even the ancient Cretan lyra, normally with three main strings and a number of sympathetic strings, accepts an extra main string to accommodate the range of Bach's five Cello Suites (No 6 for five-string violoncello piccolo not included) as performed by cellist and fourth-generation Cretan lyra player Yiorgos Kaloudis. A little smaller than the lyra viol, the instrument is played with the nails of the left hand held against the side of the strings rather than pressing down on them. It has a pungent yet resonant tone, which Kaloudis beautifully exploits in these haunting accounts, rich in ornaments and improvised passages.

The superb guitarist Tilman Hoppstock, like Julian Bream, was a student of the cello as well as the guitar. His Bach Cello Suites features not just Nos 1, 2 and 5 played on the modern classical guitar but a suite comprising Bach chorale harmonisations interspersed with three fantasias by Francesco da Milano (1497-1543). Throughout, Hoppstock's trademark lavish ornamentation and use of overlapping tones to produce that campanella effect so beloved of Baroque guitarists may be excessive for some; but in the end they serve to elucidate, rather than obscure, Bach's musical architectonics.

Cello Suites Nos 1, 2 and 3 receive a very different treatment under the fingers of the Danish recorder player Bolette Roed, courtesy of Frans Briiggen's masterly arrangements; also included are 11 movements from the Sonatas and Partitas originally for solo violin. Recorded in the church of Augustenborg Castle in Denmark, Roed's performances honour the spare elegance of Briiggen's arrangements while admitting of flexible tempos and generous breaths between phrases. The Allemanda in D minor is languorously beautiful, while faster movements such as the Allegro assai from the Sonata No 3 in C major truly give the impression of two recorders playing instead of one.

The classical guitar arrangements on Mats Bergstrom's 'Sei Solo' of the Sonatas and Partitas originally for solo violin are in many ways the most orthodox here. But, as Bergstrom writes in his booklet note, he wanted to make these works 'sound as if they were written for guitar', following Bach's example by examining the latter's lute version of Partita No 3, a keyboard arrangement of Sonata No 2 and so forth. The result is a beauty of sound that is as compelling as Bergstrom's natural, unaffected yet deeply expressive playing. Bergstrom's Chaconne from the Partita in D minor is especially impressive and wholly guitaristic. …

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